Suggestions for future research
Dr. Dakkak added that more areas for research include the differences in the impact of social media use on content creators versus content consumers. Also, “I would like to see research using the real data of use, the times of use, interruptions in sleep and use, possible confounding variables to include exercise, presence of intimate relationship and school/job performance.”
Given the many confounding variables, more controlled studies are needed to examine mental health outcomes in use, how long people use social media, and the impact of interventions such as time limits, Dr. Gold said.
“We can’t ignore the benefits of social media, such as helping those with social anxiety, finding peer support, and normalizing mental health, and those factors need to be studied and measured more effectively as well, she said.
It is important to recognize that the current study represents a correlation, not causality, said Dr. Gold. In addressing the issues of how social media impact mental health, “as always, the hardest thing is that many people get their news from social media, and often get social support from social media, so there has to be a balance of not removing social media completely, but of helping people see how it affects their mental health and how to find balance.”
The study findings were limited by several factors, including the inability to control for all potential confounders, the inability to assess the nature of social media use, and the lack of dose-response data, the researchers noted. Although the surveys in the current study were not specific to COVID-19, the effects of social media on depression may be specific to the content, and the findings may not generalize beyond the COVID-19 pandemic period.
Approximately two-thirds (66%) of the study participants identified as female, and 76% as White; 11% as Black; 6% as Asian; 5% as Hispanic; and 2% as American Indian or Alaska Native, Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian, or other.
The National Institute of Mental Health provided a grant for the study to Dr. Pelis, who disclosed consulting fees from various companies and equity in Psy Therapeutics. The study’s lead author also serves as associate editor for JAMA Network Open, but was not involved in the decision process for publication of this study. Dr. Gold disclosed conducting a conference for Johnson & Johnson about social media and health care workers, and was on the advisory council.