Bad Experiences on Social Media Ups Risk of Depression in Young Adults

Social media sites such as Facebook are often perceived as an environment that provides positive reinforcement and social support. A first of its kind study, however, finds that negative experiences can significantly increase the risk for depression among young adults.

Brown University researchers discovered negative Facebook interactions includes including bullying, meanness, misunderstandings or unwanted contacts significantly increase the risk of depression for young adults, even when investigators accounted for possible complicating factors.

“I think it’s important that people take interactions on social media seriously and don’t think of it as somehow less impactful because it’s a virtual experience as opposed to an in-person experience,” said lead author Samantha Rosenthal, an epidemiology research associate in the Brown University School of Public Health.

Rosenthal performed the research as part of her doctoral thesis at Brown. “It’s a different forum that has real emotional consequences.”

The study is unique in at least two important ways. One is measurement of the prevalence, frequency, severity and nature of negative interpersonal experiences, as reported by the 264 participants. Other studies have used measures such as the amount of time spent using social media or the general tone of items in news feeds.

The other is that because the young adult participants were also enrolled as adolescents in the New England Family Study, the researchers knew how participants were faring in 2002, before the advent of Facebook.

The study, therefore, suggests that their later negative experiences on Facebook likely led to their increased levels of depressive symptoms, rather than just reflecting them, said Stephen Buka, professor of epidemiology at Brown and study co-author.

“This as close as you can get to answering the question: Do adverse experiences [on Facebook] cause depression?” Buka said.

“We knew how the participants were doing as kids before they had any Facebook use, then we saw what happened on Facebook, and then we saw how they were faring as young adults. It permits us to answer the chicken-and-egg problem: Which comes first — adverse experiences on Facebook or depression, low self-esteem and the like?”

The study will appear in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

One of the study’s most basic findings is that 82 percent of the 264 participants reported having at least one negative Facebook experience (NFE) since they started using the service, and 55 percent had one in the year before they were surveyed in 2013 or 2014.

Among the participants, 63 percent said they had four or more NFEs during their young lifetimes.

Meanwhile, 24 percent of the sample reported moderate-to-severe levels of depressive symptoms on the standard Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.

To determine the risk of depressive symptoms independently attributable to NFEs, the researchers in their statistical analysis controlled for a variety of factors. These included depression as adolescents, parental mental health, sex, race or ethnicity, reported social support, daily Facebook use, average monthly income, educational attainment and employment.

After all those adjustments, investigators found that among people who experienced any NFEs, the overall risk of depressive symptoms was about 3.2 times greater than among those who had not.

The risk varied in many ways, for instance by the kind of NFE. Bullying or meanness was associated with a 3.5 times elevated risk, while unwanted contact had a milder association of about 2.5 times.

Frequency also mattered. Significantly elevated risks were only associated with unwanted contacts or misunderstandings if there were four or more, but even just one to three instances of bullying or meanness was associated with a higher risk of depressive symptoms.

Similarly, the more severe a person perceived incidents to be, the more likely they were to be showing signs of depression, Rosenthal said.

Investigators believe young adults should be conscious of the risks associated with social media.

It will take more research to determine who might be at most specific or strongest risk for potential depression related to NFEs, Rosenthal said. But for now it may be prudent for teens and young adults to recognize that NFEs could lead to prolonged symptoms of depression and that if they have negative emotions related to Facebook experiences, it might be worthwhile to take a break. Another strategy might be to unfriend people who are becoming sources of NFEs.

“There is research that shows that people tend to feel more entitled to bully online than they do in person or engage in unwanted contact online than they would in person,” Rosenthal said. “In some ways it’s higher risk. It’s worth people being aware of that risk.”

The study’s other authors are Brown University Professors Brandon Marshall, Kate Carey and Melissa Clark.

Source: Brown University

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Pet Therapy Reduce Homesickness

Fall is a time for many high school graduates to move away from home to attend college. Separation from parents and life-long friends can bring despair and loneliness although a new study finds a novel way to reduce homesickness.

A new University of British Columbia (UBC) study finds that the expression dog is man’s best friend may have practical significance for first-year university students.

The study shows that animal-assisted therapy can help students combat homesickness and could be a useful tool in lowering post-secondary drop-out rates.

“Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a challenge for many first-year students,” says Assistant Professor John Tyler Binfet of UBC’s Okanagan campus.

“Given that students who experience homesickness are more likely than their non-homesick cohorts to drop out of university, universities have a vested interest in supporting students during their first-year transition.”

In the study, 44 first-year university students who self-identified as homesick were given a survey to measure levels of homesickness, satisfaction with life and connectedness with campus.

Half of the students completed eight weeks of dog therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks’ time.

Dog therapy included 45-minute weekly sessions involving small group interactions with the dogs and handlers, and engagement with other first-year students participating in the study.

Following the initial eight-week session, participants in both the treatment group and the non-treatment group completed the survey again.

Participants who completed the eight-week program experienced significant reductions in homesickness and greater increase in satisfaction with life. Participants reported that sessions “felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies.”

While the non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness.

The finding is relevant as a 2009 report discovered students who left college happy were almost twice as likely to have felt a sense of belonging compared to students who left unhappy.

Students who left university unhappy were almost twice as likely to say they did not feel a sense of belonging on campus.

A total of 29 per cent of students who dropped out cited more interactions and friendships with other students as a factor that would have influenced their decision to stay longer.

While further study is needed, a university’s ability to influence campus connections could be a useful tool in lowering drop-out rates in first-year students, says Binfet.

“Many first-year university students face the challenge of integrating into their new campus community,” says Binfet.

“Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university.”

“Moving to a new city, I did not know anyone at the university and became very homesick and depressed,” says UBC student Varenka Kim.

“I was mainly secluded in my dorm room and did not feel like I belonged here. Coming to animal assisted therapy sessions every Friday gave me a sense of purpose and kept me enthusiastic about life.”

Source: University of British Columbia–Okanagan/EurekAlert

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