New research links social media use to depression in older adults

A new study has linked social media use with symptoms of depression among older adults, joining other research showing increased mental health issues among younger adults and adolescents using social media.

The study, published on Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, surveyed 5,395 adults with a mean age of 56 between May 2020 and May 2021. The researchers asked respondents to fill out a mental health questionnaire and report what social media sites they use: Snapchat, LinkedIn, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Youtube.

After adjusting for other factors, including participants' living situations, the pandemic and news consumption, researchers found that social media's effects on mental health "are not limited to young adults."

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The study also showed that Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok were most frequently associated with reports of increased depressive symptoms in adults.

The research does not directly prove social media causes depression among adults because of some limitations, including an inability to measure the nature of social media use among survey respondents. People already vulnerable to depression may also be more likely to log on to social media. The researchers said their data means more research on the topic needs to be completed.

The study adds to a growing list of research showing that increased anxiety and depressive symptoms are common among those who frequently use social media, particularly children. An article published last year through the National Institutes of Health found that social media is "aggravating mental health problems" and called for further research into the issue.

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, representing 20 percent of the adult population.