Positive and Negative Social Media Experiences Among Young Adults With and Without Depressive Symptoms

Abstract

The impact of social media interactions on mental health is not fully understood, despite increasing use. This qualitative investigation explored positive and negative effects of social media for individuals with and without depressive symptoms. The authors conducted an online survey of US adults ages 18–30 in March 2018. Two open-ended questions assessed participants’ self-report of positive and negative effects of social media on their lives. The 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire was used to select a purposeful random subsample of 50 participants with severe depressive symptoms (scores ranging from 20 to 27) and 50 without depressive symptoms (scores ranging from 0 to 4). Authors used content analysis to systematically identify codes in participants’ responses and compare frequency and context between groups. Sixteen themes emerged, of which 9 were positive and 7 were negative. For all participants, connection with others and exposure to negativity were the most frequently mentioned positive and negative effects, respectively. Whereas positive effects of social media were reported with similar frequency between depressed and non-depressed participants, more variation was observed in reports of negative effects between the two groups. Social media was noted as a distraction from real life more often by non-depressed than depressed participants. Judgment was mentioned solely by depressed participants. It may be valuable for future research to utilize more interactive qualitative methodologies such as web-based focus groups or one-on-one semi-structured interviews that allow for elaboration and clarification to more fully understand the nuances related to both positive and negative social media experiences and the effects on young adults’ well-being.

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Acknowledgment

We acknowledge Michelle Woods for editorial assistance.

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This study was funded by a grant from the Fine Foundation of Pittsburgh.

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Correspondence to Ariel Shensa.

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Shensa, A., Sidani, J.E., Hoffman, B.L. et al. Positive and Negative Social Media Experiences Among Young Adults With and Without Depressive Symptoms. J. technol. behav. sci. 6, 378–387 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41347-020-00175-2

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Keywords

  • Social media
  • Young adults
  • Depression
  • Content analysis