By Dennis Thompson
FRIDAY, Feb. 8, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Time spent on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook probably isn't driving teenagers to depression, a new study contends.
In fact, Canadian researchers found the relationship worked in the opposite direction -- teenage girls who were already depressed tended to spend more time on social media, to try to feel better.
These findings run counter to a series of recent studies that said teens and young adults were more likely to grow depressed if they used social media more often.
But those studies only looked at adolescents' depression and social media use at one point in time, taking a single survey "snapshot" that couldn't assess which factor influences the other, explained Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The new study looked at people over time and tried to make sense of their behaviors over time, said Rutledge, who was not involved in the research.
"To me it makes a lot of sense, because we also know that social media can have a lot of benefits," she said. "With anything, there is positive and negative. Social media is this great big thing, and there are all sorts of ways to use it."
Beginning in 2017, researchers led by Taylor Heffer from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, surveyed nearly 600 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in Ontario once a year for two years. They also conducted annual surveys of more than 1,100 college students for six years, beginning in 2010.
The investigators used a standard questionnaire to measure symptoms of depression. They also asked participants to estimate their average weekday and weekend use of social media, their regular screen time, and the time they spend on non-screen activities like homework or exercise.
They then looked at each participant's responses over time, to see how depressive symptoms or social media use changed from one year to another.
Social media use did not predict the development of depression symptoms among school kids or college students, researchers found.
Instead, school-age girls with greater symptoms of depression tended to use more social media over time. The researchers did not find the same association among school-age boys or college students.
How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?