Is social media screen time really associated with poor adolescent mental health? A Time Use Diary Study

Amber E Barthorpe, Lizzy Winstone*, Becky Mars, Paul A Moran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Background
There is increasing concern regarding the potential impact of social media use on the mental health of young people. Previous research has relied heavily on retrospective accounts of social media screen-time. Yet recent evidence suggests that such self-report measures are unreliable, correlating poorly with more objective measures of social media use. In principle, time use diaries provide a less biased measure of social media use.

Methods
We analysed cross-sectional data from the Millennium Cohort Study to explore associations between social media screen-time as recorded in time use diaries (TUD) and key mental health outcomes – self-harm in the past year, depressive symptoms (Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire), self-esteem (shortened Rosenberg scale) – in adolescence. Social media TUD data were available for 4,032 participants (25.4% aged 13; 73.5% aged 14; 1.1% aged 15).

Results
Following adjustment for confounders, a greater amount of time spent on social media was associated with an increased risk of self-harm (adjusted OR per 30-minute increase in weekday use: 1.13, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.21) and depression (adjusted OR=1.12, 95%CI 1.07 to 1.17) and lower levels of self-esteem (adjusted B = -0.12, 95%CI -0.20 to -0.04) in females. Findings were similar for weekday and weekend use.

Limitations
The cross-sectional nature of the data limits inference in relation to the causal direction of these associations.

Conclusions
Future research should examine the direction of the associations with self-harm and other mental health outcomes and explore how adolescents engage with social media as well as how much time they spend online.

Keywords
Social media; Adolescence; Self-harm; Depression; Self-esteem; Millennium Cohort Study
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)864-870
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume274
Early online date25 May 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 May 2020

Keywords

  • Social Media
  • Adolescence
  • Self-harm
  • Depression
  • Self-esteem
  • Millennium Cohort Study

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