Though the term “Facebook depression” was coined in an April 2011 edition of Pediatrics, little research shows an association between time spent on social media and depression. Also importantly, none of the sources Pediatrics cited drew a direct connection between spending time on Facebook and depression.
But the question remains. Can Facebook and other social networking sites lead to depression?
Some studies show that online interactions do have some relationship with depression. These studies show that it’s the quality rather than the quantity of online interactions that may be associated with depression symptoms.
One 2010 study found a correlation between internet addiction and depression symptoms. But, it did not establish if internet addiction caused depression, or if the reverse were true. A later study found no evidence of a relationship between social networking sites and clinical depression in older adolescents.
The 2011 Pediatrics study defined Facebook depression as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.” The authors also wrote that the “intensity of the online world” may also be responsible for triggering depression.
One of the studies Pediatrics cited showed that co-rumination (the excessive pondering and discussion of problems with friends) was associated with depression symptoms in adolescent girls. However, the study authors made no direct connection between spending time on social networks and depression. This point was later clarified by one of the authors, Dr. Joanne Davila.
Dr. Davila continued her research on depression and social media. In late 2011, Davila reported that frequency of social network use should not be a concern for depression. However, quality of social network interactions should be a cause of concern. She also reported that more research was necessary to determine if some unique aspect of social networking relates to depression.
Still, Facebook and other social networking websites remain powerful tools for sharing both negative and positive thoughts with one another. They’re also places for us to demonstrate and exercise the “quality” of our interactions.