Social media can lead to depression in teens: study

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A new Canadian study has drawn a link between social media screen time and depression in young people.

The study was carried out over four years by researchers at the Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal.

"What we found over and over was that the effects of social media were much larger than any of the other effects for the other types of digital screen time," said research team leader Patricia Conrod. She is also a University of Montreal professor of psychiatry.

Researchers studied the behavioral habits of a total of 3,800 Grade 7 to Grade 10 students from 31 Montreal schools, beginning in 2012.

The results showed that social media and television increased depression. Social media screen time proved to be the most harmful.

Researchers concluded the depressive symptoms were the result of the young people comparing themselves to the razzle-dazzle images that they cannot attain on sites like Instagram.

"It exposes young people to images that promote upward social comparison and makes them feel bad about themselves," Conrod said. "These sort of echo chambers-these reinforcing spirals-also continually expose them to things that promote or reinforce their depression, and that's why it's particularly toxic depression."

On average, researchers found that teens spend six hours a day looking at a digital screen.

But video games were found not to produce depression because gamers are not isolated-they often play online or in person with others.

"The findings surprised us," said Elroy Boers, a postdoctoral research fellow at the hospital who was part of the research team. "Video gaming makes one more happy. It's a good pastime."

The chief child and adolescent psychiatrist at Montreal's Children's Hospital said he has noticed over the last few years an increase in emergency room visits for teens who have exhibited suicidal thoughts.

"I don't think that [social media] is the only reason, but it is one of the risk factors we should monitor," said Dr. Martin Gignac.

Boers said he thinks doctors and other health care professionals can use the study to enhance treatment of depression in young people.

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics, an American Medical Association journal.

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