Social media now linked to depression in middle-age too: Harvard study finds people in their 50s who use TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram ‘substantially more likely’ to feel down than their peers

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  • US study looked at signs of depression and social media use in more than 5,000 adults
  • Use of Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok linked to increased risk of depression
  • But the risk was even greater for young people over 35 who used social media.

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A long line of research suggests that spending too much time on social media is harmful to children’s developing brains.

But a new study warns that middle-aged adults are also ‘substantially’ more likely to be depressed if they are social media users.


Researchers from Harvard University found that adults are more hurt when using youth’s favorite platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, because it makes them feel older.

They surveyed 5,400 US adults with an average age of 56 on two occasions, once in May 2020 and again a year later.

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Participants were asked to complete a nine-question mental health questionnaire and about which social media they used.

The lead author of the study, Professor Roy Perlis, explained NBC News: ‘People who were using Facebook, people who were using TikTok, and people who were using Snapchat were significantly more likely to come back and tell us that the next time they filled out the survey. They were feeling sad.

But the researchers couldn’t rule out that depressed people may be more likely to log on to social media, perhaps as an escape.

The participants were surveyed during the coronavirus pandemic – when depression rates soared anyway.

Snapchat tops the risk of depression, with users one and a half times more likely to report feeling low. Users who followed it up with Facebook and TikTok were only one and a half times as likely to report symptoms of depression. While the average age of the study participants was 56, the researchers divided their findings into two groups, one over the age of 35 and one under the age of 35.

One year after the first survey, 482 (9 percent) of participants showed a clinically significant decline in their mental health, scoring high for possible signs of depression.

Publishing your findings in a medical journal Jama Network Open, The researchers found that overall, people who used Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok were more likely to report feelings of depression compared to a year earlier.

Which social media platforms were most likely to be associated with depression?

The Harvard study asked 5,395 American adults, with an average age of 56, to personally assess their mental health on two separate occasions a year, as well as their social media use.

Of these, 482 (9 percent) participants showed a clinically significant decline in their mental health, scoring high for possible signs of depression.

By looking at the social media used by these individuals, the researchers found:

Overall, Snapchat was the app most associated with signs of depression, followed by Facebook and TikTok.

The link between depression and Snapchat and TikTok for people over the age of 35 was higher than the overall figure but lower for Facebook.

However, it was the opposite for those under 35.


Middle-aged Snapchat users were almost twice as likely to report feeling depressed than their peers who did not use the photo sharing platform.

Older TikTok users are one and a half times more likely to feel down than their peers.

But the reverse was true for Facebook, where people under 35 were two and a half times more likely to feel depressed.

The exact reasons why different age groups are likely to report feeling depressed depending on the social media platforms they use are unknown.

One theory is that people feel more out of place by using social media that doesn’t match their age profile making them feel out-of-sync.

Snapchatters are primarily under 35 and TikTok’s core demographic is even smaller with most users in their 20s.

One of the original social media giants, Facebook has older users.

The study’s findings are limited, although it does not measure how often people were using social media and what kind of content they were using.

Instead of causing depression because of social media, it may be the case that using it can be a sign that you are vulnerable to depression, said Professor Perlis, a Harvard psychiatrist.

“Specifically, social media use may simply be a marker of underlying vulnerability to depression,” he said.

The study’s authors said their findings add to previous work by extending these findings to older demographics regarding social media use and mental health in young people.

He, however, added that more research needs to be done into the relationship between social media use and mental health.

Social media platforms have come under scrutiny in recent years for their negative effects on people’s mental health and body image, especially those of young children.

Facebook recently came under fire after the company came to know that its platform Instagram was toxic to young girls since 2019, after internal research leaked 13 percent of UK teens using it for suicidal thoughts. Convicted.

The company’s whistleblowers have also raised alarm about the algorithms the company uses that send young users down a rabbit hole of harmful content, even when they only interact with content that feels innocently sad. .

The danger to youth was highlighted on social media following the tragic death of Molly Russell in 2017, when a schoolgirl killed herself after viewing graphic images of self harm and suicide on Instagram.

TikTok has also faced accusations of its own, of fashioning neurological conditions like autism and ADHD and leading to an epidemic of involuntary ‘ticks’ among teens, as youth seek to emulate their favorite social media stars. .

The government has repeatedly called on the social media giant to do more to protect its users, both…


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