Unsurprisingly, it turns out feverishly commenting “huge mood” on every meme while a chorus of neo-nazis and chemtrail enthusiasts scream into the void isn’t exactly great for your mental health. (Sorry, Twitter.) According to a new study published in the medical journal “Depression and Anxiety” on Thursday, negative interactions online appear to worsen the average person’s depressive symptoms, regardless of whether they are depressed already or not, while positive interactions have little to no effect.
In a study involving over a thousand young adults, ages 18 to 30, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that each 10 percent increase in negative online activity (“negative“ as defined by the person experiencing it) was associated with a 19 percent increase in depressive symptoms, while the impact of positive online interactions appeared statistically insignificant.
“In other studies, engaging in certain forms of social media use has been shown to enhance communication and social connection,” said Doctor Brian Primack, lead author of the study and and director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health. “Certainly, there are many situations in which connecting with others in this way might actually lower depressive symptoms. That just wasn't the primary finding in this particular study.”
Signs of depression were identified using the 4-item PROMIS depression scale, which assesses how often patients have felt hopeless, worthless, helpless, or depressed through self-reporting questionnaire.
“It is valuable to know that positive and negative experiences are very differently related to depression,” said Primark. “But we don't know from our study whether the negative social media interactions actually caused the depressive symptoms or whether depressed individuals are more likely to seek out negative online interactions. As with many things in social science, the answer is probably some combination of the two, but more research will be needed to disentangle cause and effect.”