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Facebook caused mental health problems in students early on: study

Facebook

There is an epidemic of mental health problems in the US, and social science research is increasingly finding a connection between social media and poor mental health. according to a study, Facebook use at a university increased symptoms of poor mental health, especially depression. 

The paper notes that among students predicted to be more prone to mental illness, the introduction of Facebook led to increased use of mental health services, while use of that social network, among others like it, among students they were more likely to report experiencing impaired academic performance as a consequence of poor mental health. 

Other data on the mechanisms suggest that the results are due to Facebook encouraging unfavorable social comparisons.

The analysis also found that, for example, people who were randomly assigned to quit social media reported feeling less depressed and anxious after a week than those who continued to use it normally.

Thus, the study determined that Facebook has been causing worse mental health in university students since it began its use among a small group of elite colleges and universities.

This analysis was conducted from 2004 to 2006, the period when Facebook expanded from being available only to Harvard students to being implemented in an increasing number of colleges and universities. National surveys on the mental health of college students were collected throughout this time, which could be related to the dates Facebook was introduced on each campus.

The key findings, which were confirmed after checking multiple assumptions, are that after Facebook was introduced to a campus, more students on that campus reported having depression and anxiety disorders. In particular, they were more likely to say they felt hopeless, exhausted, and "severely depressed." 

When Facebook was introduced to a campus, more students also reported that mental health issues were affecting their studies. Furthermore, the effect was stronger among students who were already more susceptible to mental illness. In other words, Facebook made college students who were already predisposed to depression or anxiety more likely to experience mental health problems.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that Facebook started causing more problems after three changes to the site: the introduction of the feed ?a constantly updated timeline of posts? in 2006, the addition of the Like button in 2009, and subsequently the use of internal algorithms to display content that was predicted to drive engagement. 

However, new research shows that wasn't true: Facebook was causing worse mental health from the start, before such features were implemented.

If Facebook had a negative effect on the mental health of college students early on, this suggests that it's not just trolls, propagandists, and a new generation of bad or cynical actors on the site that caused it. The authors of the new research paper suggest that this deeper culprit is something much older and more common in our culture: social comparison.

And it is that, social networks allow them to see a large part of the life of their companions with intimate details, which can increase the opportunities to compare their own lives with theirs. With so many people to compare themselves to, and so much more time spent looking at these comparisons, college students may have naturally begun to feel inadequate. 

With information from Alexander Danvers for Psychology Today.

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Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.

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