Therapy for problematic use of social media sites can improve mental wellbeing for people with depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Social media use may become problematic when it distracts people from their primary tasks and leads them to neglect other aspects of their lives. In extreme cases, it can lead to poor mental wellbeing, including depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
There are many different interventions to help people control their social media use, from limiting use to therapy-based techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A team of researchers from UCL, London, analysed 23 studies conducted between 2004 and 2022 looking at different techniques. Results showed that social media use interventions significantly improve mental wellbeing, especially depression and low mood. These results were particularly strong in patients who attended therapy rather than just limit social media use or even give it up entirely.
“Mental health issues are on the rise, as is the number of people who use social media. Health and care professionals should be aware that reducing time spent on social media is unlikely to benefit mental wellbeing on its own,” said lead author Dr Ruth Plackett (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health). “Instead, taking a more therapy-based approach and reflecting on how and why we are interacting with social media and managing those behaviours could help improve mental health.”
“As primary care physicians, we should proactively explore social media use and its effects on mental health in patients who present with anxiety and/or low mood in order to give those patients the opportunity to benefit from treatment, including some of the more effective interventions outlined in our review,” added Dr. Patricia Schartau (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health).
The team hopes these findings can help to develop guidance and recommendations for policymakers and clinicians on how best to manage problematic social media use, especially in young people.
Henzel V, Håkansson A (2021) Hooked on virtual social life. Problematic social media use and associations with mental distress and addictive disorders. PLoS ONE 16(4): e0248406. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0248406