Negative Social Media Behaviors Associated With Major Depressive Disorder

Researchers found negative effects for participants with major depressive disorder who are using social media.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, negative social media behaviors are associated with a higher likelihood of meeting criteria for major depressive disorder; affected individuals should gain an understanding of positive social media behaviors that could potentially reduce depressive symptoms.

Previous studies suggest that increased social media use is associated with increased depressive symptoms in young adults with major depressive disorder and that they behave differently on social media than individuals without depression. The investigators of this study sought to identify specific social media behaviors — including social interaction, social comparisons, and social media addiction — that may relate to major depressive disorder in a millennial population.

The study sample included 504 undergraduate students, aged 18 or older, who actively used at least 1 of the following social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Participants completed an anonymous online survey, responding to questions on specific social media behaviors and demographic characteristics. They also answered several validated psychosocial questionnaires to assess depression. Quantitative measures of social media habits included the Social Media Intensity scale (for each of the 4 platforms), the Need for Participating in Social Media scale, the Bergen Social Media Addiction scale, Social Media vs Offline Identity Overlap, and questions on social comparisons. Univariate analyses were used to compare differences in social media use and demographics between individuals who met criteria for major depressive disorder vs those who did not; multivariate analyses were used to identify key social media factors associated with the presence of major depressive disorder.

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Comparing the age, gender, and race/ethnicity of respondents, no significant differences were observed between the group with depression and the group without. Social Media Intensity scores and the Need for Social Media results were similar across both groups; however, individuals with major depressive disorder had significantly fewer followers on Instagram (P =.012) and followed fewer Twitter accounts (P =.023). In both upward and downward social comparisons on social media, individuals with depression were more likely to compare themselves with others they deemed “better than me” (P <.001) and others they deemed “worse than me” (P =.003). Individuals with major depressive disorder had significantly higher social media addiction scores (P <.001) and reported a bigger difference between their online-offline identities (P =.004). Regarding specific social media behaviors, these individuals were significantly more bothered if tagged in unflattering pictures (P <.001); were more likely to censor themselves to avoid being judged (P =.011); were less likely to post pictures of themselves with other people (P =.015); and were more likely to “feel noticed” when others viewed their Snapchat Story (P =.003).

Limitations to this study included the fact that a large proportion of participants were women and that participants were all millennial college students. The study relied exclusively on self-reported data, and although the questionnaires on major depressive disorder were validated, they do not necessarily translate into a clinical diagnosis.

The study investigators suggested that individuals meeting the criteria of major depressive disorder were more likely to report negative social media behaviors, including increased social comparisons and social media addiction, whereas individuals without depression reported more positive social media behaviors, including social interaction with others. Patients with major depressive disorder should develop an awareness of specific negative social media behaviors that exacerbate their symptoms and learn to adopt more positive behaviors that can potentially reduce depressive symptoms.


Robinson A, Bonnette A, Howard K, et al. Social comparisons, social media addiction, and social interaction: an examination of specific social media behaviors related to major depressive disorder in a millennial population [published online January 8, 2019]. J Appl Behav Res. doi: 10.1111/jabr.12158