It is widely believed that the use of social networks can have a negative impact on mental health. However, recent studies suggest that their use in adults could reduce the risk of depression or anxiety disorders.
Facebook's reputation has declined significantly in recent years due to a wide variety of factors. In addition, various studies have suggested that the use of social media can cause psychological stress, loneliness, and depression, or that leaving Facebook could completely improve well-being.
For this reason, new research by Professor Keith Hampton and colleagues from Michigan State University focused on the impact of Facebook on adults and the claim that social media contribute to mental health problems.
In the eyes of Professor Hampton, a crucial problem of the previous studies is that the focus was usually on pupils and other young people. In his opinion, people in this phase of life often experienced emotional chaos, which in turn could show results that depict less accurately the effects of technology use.
Hampton comments: "Assuming that an entire generation is at risk due to social networks ignores much more significant social changes such as the effects of the global economic crisis, the increase in single children, elderly and overprotective parents or the growing number of indebted students".
For his analysis, Professor Hampton drew on the data of thousands of adults in 2015 and 2016 from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the world's longest-running household survey. This gave the researchers access to the data of 5,129 individuals, 3,790 of whom were family members participating in both surveys of the study.
Hampton was also able to test the "social causation" hypothesis, which takes into account the socio-economic status of a person who, in his view, has been ignored in previous research. He observed that 63% of social media users had less psychological problems than people who did not use them.
In the survey, participants had to answer on a five-point scale how often they used social networks. They were also asked about the state of their mental health. The results showed that certain groups of adults, such as women, African Americans or Latin Americans, experienced psychological stress more frequently. In addition, people with a low level of education, a low family income, a lack of domestic stability or unmarried couples were at increased risk of mental illness.
The study also showed that a person's mental health can influence the mental stress of a family member if both people use the same social media. The platform used, as well as the length of use also played an important role in the effect of the communication platforms.
Professor Hampton concluded: "Today, we are constantly receiving new, short information, such as Facebook notifications that appear on our smartphones. This permanent contact can be very important for things like mental health."
Keith N Hampton, Social Media and Change in Psychological Distress Over Time: The Role of Social Causation, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, zmz010, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcmc/zmz010