HealthDay News — Increases in time spent on social media, computers, and watching television are linked to a corresponding increase in depression in adolescents, according to a study published online July 15 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Elroy Boers, Ph.D., of the University of Montreal, and colleagues gathered data from 3,826 adolescents (47 percent girls; mean age, 12.7 years) entering seventh grade in Montreal who were participating in a separate clinical trial. The authors used an annual survey to collect four years of responses from each participant, and data were collected from September 2012 to September 2018.

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The researchers found that for every additional hour spent using social media, adolescents showed a 0.64-unit increase in symptoms of depression, as measured using the Brief Symptoms Inventory. Participants also demonstrated similar increases for computer use (0.69 units). Within-person analysis showed that a one-hour increase in social media use within a year was linked to an additional 0.41-unit increase in symptoms of depression in that year, and television was linked to a 0.18-unit increase. The investigators also found that overall, symptoms of depression increased yearly (year 1 mean [SD], 4.29 [5.10] points; year 4 mean [SD], 5.45 [5.93] points). Post hoc analyses showed that only higher levels of social media and television use were linked to lower self-esteem over time, and that self-esteem, but not exercise, was associated with depression, meaning that screen time’s effect on depression was most likely due to upward social comparison and reinforcing spirals, not displacement of healthier activities.

“It might be that repeated exposure to idealized images on social media and television decreases self-esteem,” the authors write. “This study indicated that adolescents’ social media and television use should be regulated to prevent the development of depression and to reduce exacerbation of existing symptoms over time.”

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