In 2011, while working at the Eating Disorders program at Cooper Clinic in Dallas, talk was circulating between dieticians and clinical psychology staff about a study that had linked social media use to disordered eating. The study out of Australia showed that within 30 seconds of scrolling in Facebook, social media users would show signs of depression and that this change in mood often led to poor body image and disordered cognitions around food. In 2016, the NIH and National Cancer Institute studied the question again [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003636/]. Their findings were consistent with previous studies – social media use contributes to depressed mood and a disordered relationship with food. In 2020, the NIH studied the question of social media and depression in adolescents. The study can be read here [ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7392374/]. The study showed there is a link between social media use and adolescent depression. While social media allows for an immediate connection to a support system, the current structure and context of social media has the potential to negatively contribute to depression.
Anecdotally, at Embrace, when conducting behavior chain analysis with our clients, we find that social media use is often an antecedent to food restriction and purging behaviors in teens and adults. We also find that where depressive symptoms are present, while not always the cause, social media use often exasperates depressed mood.
What does research say that parents can do? Parental involvement is key. Empowering your teen and yourself to avoid negative content, select positive content, critically evaluate body-related content, psychologically distance from and positively reframing challenging content are all important.
So the answer to this question is ‘yes’, social media use can cause or contribute to depression. If you or your teen need help with depression, disordered eating or negative body image issues, our counselors and coaches are here to help. Call or Text our Intake Specialist at 972.292.7092 to be matched with a provider.
Weight management is a medical issue that is best treated under the supervision of your physician and dietician.
At EMBRACE, our referrals are:
Dr. Smithers, Dr. Wiprud, and Lemond Nutrition