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What Is Doomscrolling, and How Is It Impacting Your Mental Health?

social media mental health case study

Day in and day out, we take in a lot of upsetting or anxiety-inducing news. For some of us, staying glued to our Twitter feeds or news outlet of choice has become something of an obsession — so much so that there’s a new word to describe that (seemingly) ceaseless compulsion to keep refreshing and devouring all those unsavory news stories. That word? Doomscrolling.

In all likelihood, many of us have been practicing this unhealthy habit of consuming large quantities of negative news without naming it — or, in some cases, without realizing it. But it’s essential that we start taking notice, especially when it comes to safeguarding our health. While doomscrolling has already been linked to experiences of depression and poor heart health, there’s also mountains of evidence to support the idea that long-term stress negatively affects our physical health and mental wellbeing too. However, more often than not, those studies don’t specifically address the stress that stems from social media or smartphone usage — at least not yet. 

What Exactly Is Doomscrolling?

At its most basic level, doomscrolling is the act of looking through social media posts or news websites, almost to an obsessive point, while feeling more and more anxious and depressed with every story or update we read. Despite feeling worse and worse as we read more and more, we continue to scroll through anyway, almost as if we’re on a quest to find as much disheartening information as possible. Sometimes called “doomsurfing,” the behavior doesn’t just involve getting caught up in negative stories; it also refers to our tendency to actively seek out negative information instead of positive, feel-good headlines. That’s where the “doom” element comes into play.

social media mental health case study

There’s an almost-masochistic undertone to doomscrolling — the more we consume bad news, the more likely we are to seek out additional stories that make us feel depressed. And it’s become especially easy to doomscroll in a time of climate dread, the COVID-19 pandemic, highly visible police brutality, and increasing political polarization. With access to doomy news always at our fingertips, breaking the cycle can be very difficult.

Why Do We Doomscroll?

So, what is it about our brains that makes us want to doomscroll? According to Dr. Ken Yeager, a psychiatrist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, it has to do with an evolutionary process that possibly once helped us protect ourselves. “We are all hardwired to see the negative and be drawn to the negative because it can harm us physically,” Dr. Yeager explains . This need to seek out dangerous things so we can learn about them once served a very important purpose: It helped us thousands of years ago. It taught our ancestors how to observe and anticipate harmful events so they could better respond to those events — with the end goal of increasing the likelihood of survival.

social media mental health case study

While most of us no longer need to know the subconsciously recognizable indicators that a tiger might be on the verge of attack or that a wild fruit may be poisonous, that evolutionary relic remains in our brains. There are plenty of modern-day negatives we can seek out to satisfy that mental itch — namely those posts on social media and articles elsewhere online. These sites can give us the “hits” of negativity that our brains are looking for, but they also have a variety of other effects on us.

As researchers delve more deeply into the effects of social media and instant information-sharing networks, they’re beginning to find that these sites and the posts on them have the tendency to divide their users and cause them to feel isolated . In short, our favorite social media apps or sites might be making us feel alone, and that can exacerbate the sadness we feel after reading negative headlines. This phenomenon isn’t relegated to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; even news sites can make us feel down.

We doomscroll when we have a longing to connect and learn about current events that may address our worries. The behavior often sneaks up on us while we’re attempting to catch up with our social circles or on local and global happenings. That impending feeling of doom and hopelessness can come on strongly after we’ve scrolled past the 20th depressing story about destroyed forests, flooded homes or corrupt politicians — and it might affect us in some detrimental ways.

What Does Doomscrolling Do to Our Brains?

In the past, tragedies were something that affected communities very deeply. Sad stories became touchstones for several generations, often serving as warnings while also shaping the ways those communities conducted themselves. That was partially due to the fact that news didn’t spread as quickly and people didn’t have access to headlines from around the world at the click of a mouse. Nowadays, however, it’s challenging to go about daily life without receiving a flood of tragic news from every possible corner of the world.

social media mental health case study

Instead of spending months mourning, say, the death of a small child as a community might have decades ago, we have mere seconds to comprehend and process the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people — just moments to think about human and animal suffering, the impacts of climate change, the corruption happening in various countries, and the fear and despair and utter hopelessness of it all. That’s quite a bit to ask our brains to handle, a seemingly impossible feat, and our minds simply cannot process all of the information they receive. To cope with multiple stressors, our brains dull the events’ effects and cause us to enter a state of stress . Instead of feeling relaxed when scrolling through our phones after work, we often end up feeling far more agitated or depressed, particularly if we were already experiencing those emotions.

According to the Cleveland Clinic , “doomscrolling can reinforce negative thoughts and a negative mindset,” and this can impact our mental health immensely. If you’re already prone to depression, for example, reading depressing news stories can worsen your symptoms and increase feelings of loneliness and disconnection. And excessive consumption of negative news stories correlates with increased stress, fear and anxiety and with poor sleep even in people who weren’t already experiencing these emotions and effects on a regular basis. This causes our bodies to continually expose our brains to stress hormones, which can eventually lead to exhaustion and other mental health issues. So what can we do about it?

How Can We Stop Doomscrolling?

If you’re keen to avoid the negative effects of doomscrolling, the first thing that can help is to learn to recognize the habit — you might be engaging in doomscrolling without even realizing it. From there, you can begin to take steps to change your behavior, keeping in mind that lifestyle shifts don’t happen overnight.

social media mental health case study

Fortunately, and somewhat ironically, there are plenty of apps designed to help you limit your amount of screen time. If you tend to wake up and fall into a pit of doomscrolling while you’re still in bed in the morning, you can use the apps to “lock down” your phone during these early hours to train yourself to stay away from worrisome stories and posts. After a little while, going to your phone to check it won’t be your automatic wake-up reaction.

It’s also helpful to enjoy activities that keep you more aware and in the moment. Exercise, socializing and meditation are excellent examples of activities that help you focus on the here and now by engaging your mind and body at the same time. Learning how to live in the moment can help you relax and lower your stress levels. This is like hitting a mental reset button and can be particularly helpful after a doomscrolling session.

If you’re someone who doomscrolls because being informed feels like a part of your civic duty, consider connecting with an actual, in-real-life activist organization local to you. It can be easier to disconnect from grim news across the globe once you focus in on tangible ways that you can make a difference.

Even a brief pause can help you break the doomscrolling habit. Do you often find yourself picking up your smartphone and navigating to your news app almost reflexively? If so, try to be more intentional in these actions. When you pick up your phone or wake up your laptop, stop for a moment and think about what you’re doing and what you’re planning to look at. Then, make a choice not to open Twitter — or even put your phone back down and walk away.

Learning to Live a Doomscroll-Free Life

It’s no secret that stress can have harmful effects on your mind and body. Being under constant stress can lead to everything from high blood pressure to ulcers to heart disease — and doomscrolling is one of those activities that can keep you in a near-constant state of stress, however low a level it may be. It’s essential to lower your stress levels to lead a happier, healthier life, and cutting out doomscrolling is one way to get you closer to this goal.

social media mental health case study

If you’ve found yourself doomscrolling lately and you’re finding the tips above difficult to implement, it can help to get in touch with a mental health professional. A counselor or therapist can address your concerns in a positive, supportive and uplifting environment and help you cope with any symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression you’re feeling. They can also help you formulate an effective plan for changing behaviors you want to move away from and teach you techniques you can apply to make measurable progress.

There will always be bad news in the world — and there will always be good news, too. Making a conscious effort to limit your consumption of the negative or even seek out content that’s a bit more positive can do wonders for your mental health and go a long way towards improving your outlook on the world. And as you’re getting started, it doesn’t hurt to put down your phone or shut your laptop for a little while, either.


social media mental health case study

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Social Media

Study: Social media use linked to decline in mental health

Dylan Walsh

Sep 14, 2022

Mark Zuckerberg launched TheFacebook at Harvard University in February 2004. Days later, 650 students had made accounts. Today, there are roughly two billion daily active users.

Concurrent with Facebook’s meteoric expansion has been growing concern over the mental well-being of adolescents and young adults. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control , the suicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds was stable from 2000 to 2007; it then increased 57% between 2007 and 2017.

Given these parallel trends, it’s important to understand the relationship between mental health and technology use, especially how youths use social media. But there have been few causal studies.

“There may be hundreds of papers that present correlations between social media and well-being, and many of them are great and highly informative, but we still know little about which way the effect runs,” said Alexey Makarin,  an assistant professor at MIT Sloan. People who use more social media may become more depressed, or, conversely, people who are more depressed may be more active on social media. “There is a lack of true causal evidence.”

Makarin and colleagues Luca Braghieri of Bocconi University and Ro’ee Levy of Tel Aviv University aim to fill this gap with a new paper , forthcoming in the American Economic Review . The researchers paired the staggered rollout of Facebook in colleges with 430,000 responses from the National College Health Assessment , a semi-annual survey of mental health and well-being on campuses across the U.S. (The survey looks at other dimensions of student health, as well, like substance use and exercise habits.) The researchers found a significant link between the presence of Facebook and a deterioration in mental health among college students.

Facebook access leads to more anxiety and depression

When Facebook began, access was restricted to people with a Harvard email address. Less than a month later, the website had expanded to Columbia, Stanford, and Yale. This progressive opening continued until September of 2006, when anybody over 13 years old was able to create an account.

College-wide Facebook access led to a 7% increase in severe depression among students, researchers found.

“We were able to use the fact that Facebook rolled out at different universities at different times, together with the fact that we have this huge survey already conducted at universities, to understand the causal impact of Facebook on student mental health,” Makarin said.

Most broadly, the researchers found a sizable increase in the number of students who reported mental distress at some time in the preceding year. College-wide access to Facebook led to an increase in severe depression by 7% and anxiety disorder by 20%. Beyond these results, a greater percentage of the most susceptible students also treated symptoms with either psychotherapy or antidepressants. In total, the negative effect of Facebook on mental health appeared to be roughly 20% the magnitude of what is experienced by those who lose their job.

The researchers posit that social comparison with peers is behind those results, and it is an effect that appears to grow stronger as people are exposed to Facebook for greater lengths. “The effects seem to increase with time,” Makarin said. “If, in late fall 2004, a freshman at Harvard had Facebook available to him for one semester and a sophomore for two semesters, it appears as though the effect is stronger with the sophomore, who had greater exposure.”

Trying to solve a “truly bad” situation

Given Makarin and his coauthors are looking at Facebook in its earliest form, they’ve faced questions about the salience of these findings. “People wonder how much this tells us about Facebook, or Instagram, right now,” Makarin said. “And that’s a fair criticism — but there are a few things in our defense.”

Related Articles

First, to the degree that social comparison drives these results, Makarin notes there is reason to believe the effect has not diminished; looking at and interpreting the curated posts of others remains a fundamental operating principle on Facebook and other, similar forms of social media. (Makarin also suspects that the ubiquity of smartphones could make this channel of influence stronger.)

Second, even if the study pertains to a particular period, the paucity of experimental data on how social media affects its users means any contribution should be considered worthwhile. “Whatever causal evidence we are able to provide is, by its nature, useful,” he said.

Makarin and his coauthors also take care to delimit the scope of their study. The mental health of Facebook’s users is only one dimension on which to measure the overall effect of social media. People may derive benefits, like connection with old friends or access to likeminded groups or good deals on products, that, in total, outweigh the costs.

But even if this is the case, Makarin believes that social media companies and policymakers should still work to alleviate the potentially harmful effects on mental well-being. As of 2021, 4.5 billion people — more than half of the global population — had a social media account.

“When I came to this work, I knew that mental health was an important issue, but to be honest, I thought of it as just one more outcome to study in our social media agenda,” he said. “When I started to really look into the trends of deteriorating mental health among the young adults, though, I came to realize how truly bad the situation is, and that stuck with me. Any insights that this paper, or others, can offer into what’s behind this trend will be very valuable to society.”

Read next: 5 social media trends experts are watching

2023 Working Definitions including "patient capital," "cultural detox," "greenhushing," and "culture of heroics."

  • Open access
  • Published: 22 June 2023

Social media and mental health in students: a cross-sectional study during the Covid-19 pandemic

  • Abouzar Nazari   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-2155-5438 1 ,
  • Maede Hosseinnia   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2248-7011 2 ,
  • Samaneh Torkian 3 &
  • Gholamreza Garmaroudi   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-7449-227X 4  

BMC Psychiatry volume  23 , Article number:  458 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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Social media causes increased use and problems due to their attractions. Hence, it can affect mental health, especially in students. The present study was conducted with the aim of determining the relationship between the use of social media and the mental health of students.

Materials and methods

The current cross-sectional study was conducted in 2021 on 781 university students in Lorestan province, who were selected by the Convenience Sampling method. The data was collected using a questionnaire on demographic characteristics, social media, problematic use of social media, and mental health (DASS-21). Data were analyzed in SPSS-26 software.

Shows that marital status, major, and household income are significantly associated with lower DASS21 scores (a lower DASS21 score means better mental health status). Also, problematic use of social media (β = 3.54, 95% CI: (3.23, 3.85)) was significantly associated with higher mental health scores (a higher DASS21 score means worse mental health status). Income and social media use (β = 1.02, 95% CI: 0.78, 1.25) were significantly associated with higher DASS21 scores (a higher DASS21 score means worse mental health status). Major was significantly associated with lower DASS21 scores (a lower DASS21 score means better mental health status).

This study indicated that social media had a direct relationship with mental health. Despite the large amount of evidence suggesting that social media harms mental health, more research is still necessary to determine the cause and how social media can be used without harmful effects.

Peer Review reports

  • Social media

Social media is one of the newest and most popular internet services, which has caused significant progress in the social systems of different countries in recent years [ 1 , 2 ]. The use of the Internet has become popular among people in such a way that its use has become inevitable and has made life difficult for those who use it excessively [ 3 ]. Social media has attracted the attention of millions of users around the world owing to the possibility of fast communication, access to a large amount of information, and its widespread dissemination [ 4 ]. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter are the most popular media that have attractive and diverse spaces for online communication among users, especially the young generation [ 5 , 6 ].

According to studies, at least 55% of the world’s population used social media in 2022 [ 7 ]. Iranian statistics also indicate that 78.5% of people use at least one social media. WhatsApp, with 71.1% of users, Instagram, with 49.4%, and Telegram, with 31.6% are the most popular social media among Iranians [ 8 , 9 ].

The use of social media has increased significantly in all age groups due to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic [ 10 ] .It affected younger people, especially students, due to educational and other purposes [ 11 , 12 ]. Because of the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions and learners had to accept e-learning as the only sustainable education option [ 13 ]. The rapid migration to E-learning has brought several challenges that can have both positive and negative consequences [ 14 ].

Unlike traditional media, where users are passive, social media enables people to create and share content; hence, they have become popular tools for social interaction [ 15 ].The freedom to choose to participate in the company of friends, anonymity, moderation, encouragement, the free exchange of feelings, and network interactions without physical presence and the constraints of the real world are some of the most significant factors that influence users’ continued activity in social media [ 16 ]. In social media, people can interact, maintain relationships, make new friends, and find out more about the people they know offline [ 17 ]. However, this popularity has resulted in significant lifestyle changes, as well as intentional or unintentional changes in various aspects of human social life [ 18 ]. Despite many advantages, the high use of social media brings negative physical, psychological, and social problems and consequences [ 19 ], but despite the use and access of more people to the Internet, its consequences and crises have been ignored [ 20 ].

Use of social media and mental health

Spending too much time on social media can easily become problematic [ 21 ]. Excessive use of social media, called problematic use, has symptoms similar to addiction [ 22 , 23 ]. Problematic use of social media represents a non-drug-related disorder in which harmful effects emerge due to preoccupation and compulsion to over-participate in social media platforms despite its highly negative consequences [ 24 , 25 , 26 ], which leads to adverse consequences of mental health, including anxiety, depression, lower well-being, and lower self-esteem [ 27 , 28 , 29 ].

Mental health & use of social media

Mental health is the main pillar of healthy human societies, which plays a vital role in ensuring the dynamism and efficiency of any society in such a way that other parts of health cannot be achieved without mental health [ 30 ]. According to World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition, mental health refers to a person’s ability to communicate with others [ 31 ]. Some researchers believe that social relationships can significantly affect mental health and improve quality of life by creating a sense of belonging and social identity [ 32 ]. It is also reported that people with higher social interactions have higher physical and mental health [ 33 ].

Scientific evidence also shows that social media affect people’s mental health [ 34 ]. Social studies and critiques often emphasize the investigation of the negative effects of Internet use [ 35 ]. For example, Kim et al. studied 1573 participants aged 18–64 years and reported that Internet addiction and social media use were associated with higher levels of depression and suicidal thoughts [ 36 ]. Zadar also studied adults and reported that excessive use of social media and the Internet was correlated with stress, sleep disturbances, and personality disorders [ 37 ]. Richards et al. reported the negative effects of the Internet and social media on the health and quality of life of adolescents [ 38 ]. There have been numerous studies that examine Internet addiction and its associated problems in young people [ 39 , 40 ], as well as reports of the effects of social media use on young people’s mental health [ 41 , 42 ].

A study on Iranian students showed that social media leads to depression, anxiety, and mental health decline [ 25 ]. A study on Iranian students showed that social media leads to depression, anxiety, and mental health decline [ 25 ]. But no study has investigated the effects of social media on the mental health of students from a more traditional province with lower individualism and higher levels of social support (where they were thought to have lower social media use and better mental health) during the COVID-19 pandemic. As social media became more and more vital to university students’ social lives during the lockdowns, students were likely at increased risk of social media addiction, which could harm their mental health. University students depended more on social media due to the limitations of face-to-face interactions. In addition, previous studies were conducted exclusively on students in specific fields. However, in our study, all fields, including medical and non-medical science fields were investigated.

The present study was conducted to determine the relationship between the use of social media and mental health in students in Lorestan Province during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study design and participants

The current study was descriptive-analytical, cross-sectional, and conducted from February to March 2022 with a statistical population made up of students in all academic grades at universities in Lorestan Province (19 scientific and academic centers, including centers under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science).

Sample size

According to the convenience sampling method, 781 people were chosen as participants in the present study. During the sampling, a questionnaire was created and uploaded virtually on Porsline’s website, and then the questionnaire link was shared in educational and academic groups on social media for students to complete the questionnaire under inclusion criteria (being a student at the University of Lorestan and consenting to participate in the study).

The research tools included the demographic information questionnaire, the standard social media use questionnaire, and the mental health questionnaire.

Demographic information

The demographic information age, gender, ethnicity, province of residence, urban or rural, place of residence, semester, and the field of study, marital status, household income, education level, and employment status were recorded.

Psychological assessment

The students were subjected to the Persian version of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS21). It consists of three self-report scales designed to measure different emotional states. DASS21 questions were adjusted according to their importance and the culture of Iranian students. The DASS21 scale was scored on a four-point scale to assess the extent to which participants experienced each condition over the past few weeks. The scoring method was such that each question was scored from 0 (never) to 3 (very high). Samani (2008) found that the questionnaire has a validity of 0.77 and a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.82 [ 43 ].

Use of social media questionnaire

Among the 13 questions on social media use in the questionnaire, seven were asked on a Likert scale (never, sometimes, often, almost, and always) that examined the problematic use of social media, and six were asked about how much time users spend on social media. Because some items were related to the type of social media platform, which is not available today, and users now use newer social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram, the questionnaires were modified by experts and fundamentally changed, and a 22-item questionnaire was obtained that covered the frequency of using social media. Cronbach’s alpha was equal to 0.705 for the first part, 0.794 for the second part, and 0.830 for all questions [ 44 ]. Considering the importance of the problematic use of the social media, six questions about the problematic use were measured separately.

To confirm the validity of the questionnaire, a panel of experts with CVR 0.49 and CVI 0.70 was used. Its reliability was also obtained (0.784) using Cronbach’s alpha coefficient. Finally, the questionnaire was tested in a class with 30 students to check the level of difficulty and comprehension of the questionnaire. Finally, a 22-item questionnaire was obtained, of which six items were about the problematic use of social media and the remaining 16 questions were about the rate and frequency of using social media. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.705 for the first part, including questions about the problematic use of the social media, and 0.794 for the second part, including questions about the rate and frequency of using the social media. The total Cronbach’s alpha for all questions was 0.830. Six questions about the problematic use of social media were measured separately due to the importance of the problematic use of social media. Also, a separate score was considered for each question. The scores of these six questions on the problematic use of the social media were summed, and a single score was obtained for analysis.

Statistical analysis

Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 26.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). The normal distribution of continuous variables was analyzed using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, histogram, and P-P diagram, which showed that they are not normally distributed. Descriptive statistics were calculated for all variables. Comparison between groups was done using Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric tests. Multiple linear regression analysis was used to investigate the relationship between mental health, problematic use of social media, and social media use (The result of merging the Frequency of using social media and Time to use social media). Generalized Linear Models (GLM) were used to assess the association between mental health with the use of social media and problematic use of social media. Due to the high correlation (r = 0.585, p = < 0.001) between the use of social media and problematic use of social media, collinearity, we run two separate GLM models. Regression coefficients (β) and adjusted β (β*) with 95% CI and P-value were reported.

A total of 781 participants completed the questionnaires, of which 64.4% were women and 71.3% were single. The minimum age of the participants was 17 years, the maximum age was 45 years, and about half of them (48.9%) were between 21 and 25 years old. A total of 53.4% of the participants had bachelor’s degrees. The income level of 23.2% of participants was less than five million Tomans (the currency of Iran), and 69.7% of the participants were unemployed. 88.1% were living with their families and 70.8% were studying in non-medical fields. 86% of the participants lived in the city, and 58.9% were in their fourth semester or higher. Considering that the research was conducted in a Lorish Province, 43.8% of participants were from the Lorish ethnicity.

The mean total score of mental health was 12.30 with a standard deviation of 30.38, and the mean total score of social media was 14.5557 with a standard deviation of 7.74140.

Table  1 presents a comparison of the mean problematic use of social media and mental health with demographic variables. Considering the non-normality of the hypothesis H0, to compare the means of the independent variables, Mann-Whitney non-parametric tests (for the variables of gender, the field of study, academic semester, employment status, province of residence, and whether it is rural or urban) and Kruskal Wallis (for the variables age, ethnicity, level of education, household income and marital status). According to the obtained results, it was found that the score of problematic use of social media is significantly higher in women, the age group less than 20 years, unemployed, non-native students, dormitory students, and students living with friends or alone, Fars students, students with a household income level of fewer than 7 million Tomans(Iranian currency), and single, divorced, and widowed students were higher than the other groups(P < 0.05).

By comparing the mean score of mental health with demographic variables using non-parametric Mann-Whitney and Kruskal Wallis tests, it was found that there is a significant difference between the variable of poor mental health and all demographic variables (except for the semester variable), residence status (rural or urban) and education level. (There was a significant relationship (P < 0.05). In such a way that the mental health condition was worse in women, age group less than 20 years old, non-medical science, unemployed, non-native, and dormitory students. Also, Fars students, divorced, widowed, and students with a household income of fewer than 5 million Tomans (Iranian currency) showed poorer mental health status. (Table  1 ).

The final model shows that marital status, field, and household income were significantly associated with lower DASS21 scores (a lower DASS21 score means better mental health status). Being single (β* = -23.03, 95% CI: (-33.10, -12.96), being married (β* = -38.78, 95% CI: -51.23, -26.33), was in Medical sciences fields (β* = -8.15, 95% CI: -11.37, -4.94), and have income 7–10 million (β* = -5.66, 95% CI: -9.62, -1.71) were significantly associated with lower DASS21 scores (a lower DASS21 score means better mental health status). Problematic use of social media (β* = 3.54, 95% CI: (3.23, 3.85) was significantly associated with higher mental health scores (a higher DASS21 score means worse mental health status). (Table  2 )

Age, income, and use of social media (β* = 1.02, 95% CI: 0.78, 1.25) were significantly associated with higher DASS21 scores (a higher DASS21 score means worse mental health status). Marital status and field were significantly associated with lower DASS21 scores (a lower DASS21 score means better mental health status). Age groups < 20 years (β* = 6.36, 95% CI: 0.78, 11.95) and income group < 5 million (β* = 6.58, 95% CI: 1.47, 11.70) increased mental health scores. Being single (β* = -34.72, 95% CI: -47.06, -38.78), being married (β* = -38.78, 95% CI: -51.23, -26.33) and in medical sciences fields (β* = -8.17, 95% CI: -12.09, -4.24) decreased DASS21 scores. (Table  3 )

The main purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between social media use and mental health among students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

University students are more reliant on social media because of the limitations of in-person interactions [ 45 ]. Since social media has become more and more vital to the social lives of university students during the pandemic, students may be at increased risk of social media addiction, which may be harmful to their mental health [ 14 ].

During non-adulthood, peer relations and approval are critical and social media seems to meet these needs. For example, connection and communication with friends make them feel better and happier, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdowns where face-to-face communication was restricted [ 46 ]. Kele’s study showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the time spent on social media, and the frequency of online activities [ 47 ].

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-learning became the only sustainable option for students [ 13 ]. This abrupt transition can lead to depression, stress, or anxiety for some students due to insufficient time to adjust to the new learning environment. The role of social media is also important to some university students [ 48 ].

Staying at home, having nothing else to do, and being unable to go out and meet with friends due to the lockdown measures increased the time spent on social media and the frequency of online activities, which influenced their mental health negatively [ 49 ]. These reasons may explain the findings of previous studies that found an increase in depression and anxiety among adolescents who were healthy before the COVID-19 pandemic [ 50 ].

According to the results, there was a statistically significant relationship between social media use and mental health in students, in such a way that one Unit increase in the score of social media use enhanced the score of mental health. These two variables were directly correlated. Consistent with the current study, many studies have shown a significant relationship between higher use of social media and lower mental health in students [ 45 , 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 ].

Inconsistent with the findings of the present study, some previous studies reported the positive effect of social media use on mental health [ 55 , 56 , 57 ]. The differences in findings could be attributed to the time and location of the studies. Anderson’s study in France in 2018 found no significant relationship between social media use and mental health. This may be because of the differences between the tools for measuring the ability to detect fake news and health literacy and the scales of the research [ 4 ].

The present study showed that the impact of using social media on the mental health of students was higher than Lebni’s study, which was conducted in 2020 [ 25 ]. Also, in Dost Mohammad’s study in 2018, the effect of using social media on the mental health of students was reported to be lower than in the present study [ 58 ]. Entezari’s study in 2021, was also lower than the present study [ 59 ]. It seems that the excessive use of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic was the reason for the greater effects of social media on students’ mental health.

The use of social media has positive and negative characteristics. Social media is most useful for rapidly disseminating timely information via widely accessible platforms [ 4 ]. Among the types of studies, at least one shows an inverse relationship between the use of social media and mental health [ 53 ]. While social media can serve as a tool for fostering connection during periods of physical isolation, the mental health implications of social media being used as a news source are tenuous [ 45 ].

The results of the GLM analysis indicated that there was a statistically significant relationship between the problematic use of social media and mental health in students in such a way that one-unit increase in the score of problematic use of social media enhanced the mental health score, and it was found that the two variables had a direct relationship. Consistent with our study, Boer’s study showed that problematic use of social media may highlight the potential risk to adolescent mental health [ 60 ]. Malaeb also reported that the problematic use of social media had a positive relationship with mental health [ 61 ], but that study was conducted on adults and had a smaller sample size before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saputri’s study found that excessive social media use likely harms the mental health of university students since students with higher social media addiction scores had a greater risk of experiencing mild depression [ 62 ]. A systematic literature review before the COVID-19 pandemic (2019) found that the time spent by adolescents on social media was associated with depression, anxiety, and psychological distress [ 63 ]. Marino’s study (2018) reported a significant correlation between the problematic use of social media by students and psychological distress [ 64 ].

Social media has become more vital for students’ social lives owing to online education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, this group is more at risk of addiction to social media and may experience more mental health problems than other groups. Lebni also indicated that students’ higher use of the Internet led to anxiety, depression, and adverse mental health, but the main purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of such factors on student’s academic performance [ 25 ]. Previous studies indicated that individuals who spent more time on social media had lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression [ 65 , 66 ]. In the present study, students with higher social media addiction scores were at higher mental health risk. Such a finding was consistent with research by Gao et al., who found that the excessive use of social media during the pandemic had adverse effects on social health [ 14 ]. Cheng et al. indicated that using the Internet, especially for communication with people, can harm mental health by changing the quality of social relationships, face-to-face communication, and changes in social support [ 24 ].

A reason for the significant relationship between social media use and mental health in students during the COVID-19 pandemic in the present study was probably the students’ intentional or unintentional use of online communication. Unfortunately, social media published information, which might be incorrect, in this pandemic that caused public fear and threatened mental health.

During the pandemic, social media played essential roles in learning and leisure activities. Due to electronic education, staying at home, and long leisure time, students had more time, frequency, and opportunities to use social media in this pandemic. Such a high reliance on social media may threaten student’s mental health. Lee et al. conducted a study during the COVID-19 pandemic and confirmed that young people who used social media had higher symptoms of depression and loneliness than before the COVID-19 pandemic [ 67 ].

The present study showed that there was a significant positive relationship between problematic use of social media and gender, so that women were more willing to use social media, probably because they had more opportunities to use social media as they stayed at home more than men; hence, they were more exposed to problematic use of social media. Consistent with our study, Andreassen reported that being a woman was an important factor in social media addiction [ 68 ]. In contrast to our study, Azizi’s study in Iran showed that male students use social media significantly more than female students, possibly due to differences in demographic variables in each population [ 69 ].

Moreover, there was a significant relationship between age and problematic use of social media in that people younger than 20 were more willing to use social media in a problematic way. Consistent with the present study, Perrin also indicated that younger people further used social media [ 70 ].

According to the findings, unemployed students used social media more than employed ones, probably because they had more time to spend in virtual space, leading to higher use and the possibility of problematic use of social media [ 71 ].

Moreover, non-native students were more willing to use the social media probably because students who lived far away from their families used social media problematically due to the lack of family control over hours of use and higher opportunities [ 72 ] .

The results showed that rural students have a greater tendency to use social Medias than urban students. Inconsistent with this finding, Perrin reported that urban people were more willing to use the social media. The difference was probably due to different research times and places or different target groups [ 70 ].

According to the current study, people with low household income were more likely to use social media, most likely because low-income people seek free information and services due to a lack of access to facilities and equipment in the real world or because they seek assimilation with people around them. Inconsistent with our findings, Hruska et al. reported that people with high household income levels made much use of social media [ 73 ], probably because of cultural, economic, and social differences or different information measurement tools.

Furthermore, single, divorced, and widowed students used social media more than married students. This is because they spend more time on social media due to the need for more emotional attention, the search for a life partner, or a feeling of loneliness. This also led to the problematic use of social media [ 74 ].

According to the results, Fars people used social media more than other ethnic groups, but this difference was insignificant. This finding was consistent with Perrin’s study, but the population consisted of people aged 18 to 65 [ 70 ].

In the current study, there was a significant relationship between gender and mental health, so that women had lower mental health than men. The difference was in health sociology. Consistent with the present study, Ghasemi et al. indicated that it appeared necessary to pay more attention to women’s health and create an opportunity for them to use health services [ 75 ].

The findings revealed that unemployed students had lower mental health than employed students, most likely because unemployed individuals have lower mental health due to not having a job and being economically dependent on others, as well as feeling incompetent at times. Consistent with the present study, Bialowolski reported that unemployment and low income caused mental disorders and threatened mental health [ 76 ].

According to this study, non-native students have lower mental health than native students because they live far from their families. The family plays an imperative role in improving the mental health of their children, and mental health requires their support. Also, the economic, social, and support problems caused by being away from the family have endangered their mental health [ 77 ].

Another important factor of the current study was that married people had higher mental health than single people. In addition, divorced and widowed students had lower mental health [ 78 ]. Possibly due to the social pressure they suffer in Iranian society. Furthermore, they received lower emotional support than married people. Therefore, their lower mental health seemed logical [ 79 , 80 , 81 ]. A large study in a European population also reported differences in the likelihood of mood, anxiety, and personality disorders between separated/divorced and married mothers [ 82 ].

A key point confirmed in other studies is the relationship between low incomes with mental health. A meta-analysis by Lorant indicated that economic and social inequalities caused mental disorders [ 83 ]. Safran also reported that the probability of developing mental disorders in people with low socioeconomic status is up to three times higher than that of people with the highest socioeconomic status [ 84 ]. Bialowolski’s study was consistent with the current study but Bialowolski’s study examined employees [ 76 ].

The present study was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore had limitations in accessing students. Another limitation was the use of self-reporting tools. Participants may show positive self-presentation by over- or under-reporting their social media-related behaviors and some mental health-related items, which may directly or indirectly lead to social desirability bias, information bias, and reporting bias. Small sample sizes and convenience sampling limit student population representativeness and generalizability. This study was based on cross-sectional data. Therefore, the estimation results should be seen as associative rather than causative. Future studies would need to investigate causal effects using a longitudinal or cohort design, or another causal effect research design.

The findings of this study indicated that the high use of social media affected students’ mental health. Furthermore, the problematic use of the social media had a direct relationship with mental health. Variables such as age, gender, income level, marital status, and unemployment of non-native students had significant relationships with social media use and mental health. Despite the large amount of evidence suggesting that social media harms mental health, more research is still necessary to determine the cause and how social media can be used without harmful effects. It is imperative to better understand the relationship between social media use and mental health symptoms among young people to prevent such a negative outcome.

Data Availability

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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The authors would like to express their gratitude to all academic officials of Lorestan universities and Mr. Mohsen Amani for their cooperation in data collection.

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Abouzar Nazari

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Maede Hosseinnia

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Samaneh Torkian

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Abouzar Nazari and Maedeh Hossennia designed the study, collected the data and drafted the manuscript. Samaneh Torkian performed the statistical analysis and prepared the tables. Gholamreza Garmaroudi, as the responsible author, supervised the entire study. All authors reviewed and edited the draft manuscript and approved the final version.

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Nazari, A., Hosseinnia, M., Torkian, S. et al. Social media and mental health in students: a cross-sectional study during the Covid-19 pandemic. BMC Psychiatry 23 , 458 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-023-04859-w

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Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review

Fazida karim.

1 Psychology, California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology, Fairfield, USA

2 Business & Management, University Sultan Zainal Abidin, Terengganu, MYS

Azeezat A Oyewande

3 Family Medicine, California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology, Fairfield, USA

4 Family Medicine, Lagos State Health Service Commission/Alimosho General Hospital, Lagos, NGA

Lamis F Abdalla

5 Internal Medicine, California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology, Fairfield, USA

Reem Chaudhry Ehsanullah

Safeera khan.

Social media are responsible for aggravating mental health problems. This systematic study summarizes the effects of social network usage on mental health. Fifty papers were shortlisted from google scholar databases, and after the application of various inclusion and exclusion criteria, 16 papers were chosen and all papers were evaluated for quality. Eight papers were cross-sectional studies, three were longitudinal studies, two were qualitative studies, and others were systematic reviews. Findings were classified into two outcomes of mental health: anxiety and depression. Social media activity such as time spent to have a positive effect on the mental health domain. However, due to the cross-sectional design and methodological limitations of sampling, there are considerable differences. The structure of social media influences on mental health needs to be further analyzed through qualitative research and vertical cohort studies.

Introduction and background

Human beings are social creatures that require the companionship of others to make progress in life. Thus, being socially connected with other people can relieve stress, anxiety, and sadness, but lack of social connection can pose serious risks to mental health [ 1 ].

Social media

Social media has recently become part of people's daily activities; many of them spend hours each day on Messenger, Instagram, Facebook, and other popular social media. Thus, many researchers and scholars study the impact of social media and applications on various aspects of people’s lives [ 2 ]. Moreover, the number of social media users worldwide in 2019 is 3.484 billion, up 9% year-on-year [ 3 - 5 ]. A statistic in Figure  1  shows the gender distribution of social media audiences worldwide as of January 2020, sorted by platform. It was found that only 38% of Twitter users were male but 61% were using Snapchat. In contrast, females were more likely to use LinkedIn and Facebook. There is no denying that social media has now become an important part of many people's lives. Social media has many positive and enjoyable benefits, but it can also lead to mental health problems. Previous research found that age did not have an effect but gender did; females were much more likely to experience mental health than males [ 6 , 7 ].

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Impact on mental health

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which people understand their abilities, solve everyday life problems, work well, and make a significant contribution to the lives of their communities [ 8 ]. There is debated presently going on regarding the benefits and negative impacts of social media on mental health [ 9 , 10 ]. Social networking is a crucial element in protecting our mental health. Both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk [ 9 ]. The Displaced Behavior Theory may help explain why social media shows a connection with mental health. According to the theory, people who spend more time in sedentary behaviors such as social media use have less time for face-to-face social interaction, both of which have been proven to be protective against mental disorders [ 11 , 12 ]. On the other hand, social theories found how social media use affects mental health by influencing how people view, maintain, and interact with their social network [ 13 ]. A number of studies have been conducted on the impacts of social media, and it has been indicated that the prolonged use of social media platforms such as Facebook may be related to negative signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress [ 10 - 15 ]. Furthermore, social media can create a lot of pressure to create the stereotype that others want to see and also being as popular as others.

The need for a systematic review

Systematic studies can quantitatively and qualitatively identify, aggregate, and evaluate all accessible data to generate a warm and accurate response to the research questions involved [ 4 ]. In addition, many existing systematic studies related to mental health studies have been conducted worldwide. However, only a limited number of studies are integrated with social media and conducted in the context of social science because the available literature heavily focused on medical science [ 6 ]. Because social media is a relatively new phenomenon, the potential links between their use and mental health have not been widely investigated.

This paper attempt to systematically review all the relevant literature with the aim of filling the gap by examining social media impact on mental health, which is sedentary behavior, which, if in excess, raises the risk of health problems [ 7 , 9 , 12 ]. This study is important because it provides information on the extent of the focus of peer review literature, which can assist the researchers in delivering a prospect with the aim of understanding the future attention related to climate change strategies that require scholarly attention. This study is very useful because it provides information on the extent to which peer review literature can assist researchers in presenting prospects with a view to understanding future concerns related to mental health strategies that require scientific attention. The development of the current systematic review is based on the main research question: how does social media affect mental health?

Research strategy

The research was conducted to identify studies analyzing the role of social media on mental health. Google Scholar was used as our main database to find the relevant articles. Keywords that were used for the search were: (1) “social media”, (2) “mental health”, (3) “social media” AND “mental health”, (4) “social networking” AND “mental health”, and (5) “social networking” OR “social media” AND “mental health” (Table  1 ).

Out of the results in Table  1 , a total of 50 articles relevant to the research question were selected. After applying the inclusion and exclusion criteria, duplicate papers were removed, and, finally, a total of 28 articles were selected for review (Figure  2 ).

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PRISMA, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Peer-reviewed, full-text research papers from the past five years were included in the review. All selected articles were in English language and any non-peer-reviewed and duplicate papers were excluded from finally selected articles.

Of the 16 selected research papers, there were a research focus on adults, gender, and preadolescents [ 10 - 19 ]. In the design, there were qualitative and quantitative studies [ 15 , 16 ]. There were three systematic reviews and one thematic analysis that explored the better or worse of using social media among adolescents [ 20 - 23 ]. In addition, eight were cross-sectional studies and only three were longitudinal studies [ 24 - 29 ].The meta-analyses included studies published beyond the last five years in this population. Table  2  presents a selection of studies from the review.

IGU, internet gaming disorder; PSMU, problematic social media use

This study has attempted to systematically analyze the existing literature on the effect of social media use on mental health. Although the results of the study were not completely consistent, this review found a general association between social media use and mental health issues. Although there is positive evidence for a link between social media and mental health, the opposite has been reported.

For example, a previous study found no relationship between the amount of time spent on social media and depression or between social media-related activities, such as the number of online friends and the number of “selfies”, and depression [ 29 ]. Similarly, Neira and Barber found that while higher investment in social media (e.g. active social media use) predicted adolescents’ depressive symptoms, no relationship was found between the frequency of social media use and depressed mood [ 28 ].

In the 16 studies, anxiety and depression were the most commonly measured outcome. The prominent risk factors for anxiety and depression emerging from this study comprised time spent, activity, and addiction to social media. In today's world, anxiety is one of the basic mental health problems. People liked and commented on their uploaded photos and videos. In today's age, everyone is immune to the social media context. Some teens experience anxiety from social media related to fear of loss, which causes teens to try to respond and check all their friends' messages and messages on a regular basis.

On the contrary, depression is one of the unintended significances of unnecessary use of social media. In detail, depression is limited not only to Facebooks but also to other social networking sites, which causes psychological problems. A new study found that individuals who are involved in social media, games, texts, mobile phones, etc. are more likely to experience depression.

The previous study found a 70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms among the group using social media. The other social media influence that causes depression is sexual fun [ 12 ]. The intimacy fun happens when social media promotes putting on a facade that highlights the fun and excitement but does not tell us much about where we are struggling in our daily lives at a deeper level [ 28 ]. Another study revealed that depression and time spent on Facebook by adolescents are positively correlated [ 22 ]. More importantly, symptoms of major depression have been found among the individuals who spent most of their time in online activities and performing image management on social networking sites [ 14 ].

Another study assessed gender differences in associations between social media use and mental health. Females were found to be more addicted to social media as compared with males [ 26 ]. Passive activity in social media use such as reading posts is more strongly associated with depression than doing active use like making posts [ 23 ]. Other important findings of this review suggest that other factors such as interpersonal trust and family functioning may have a greater influence on the symptoms of depression than the frequency of social media use [ 28 , 29 ].

Limitation and suggestion

The limitations and suggestions were identified by the evidence involved in the study and review process. Previously, 7 of the 16 studies were cross-sectional and slightly failed to determine the causal relationship between the variables of interest. Given the evidence from cross-sectional studies, it is not possible to conclude that the use of social networks causes mental health problems. Only three longitudinal studies examined the causal relationship between social media and mental health, which is hard to examine if the mental health problem appeared more pronounced in those who use social media more compared with those who use it less or do not use at all [ 19 , 20 , 24 ]. Next, despite the fact that the proposed relationship between social media and mental health is complex, a few studies investigated mediating factors that may contribute or exacerbate this relationship. Further investigations are required to clarify the underlying factors that help examine why social media has a negative impact on some peoples’ mental health, whereas it has no or positive effect on others’ mental health.


Social media is a new study that is rapidly growing and gaining popularity. Thus, there are many unexplored and unexpected constructive answers associated with it. Lately, studies have found that using social media platforms can have a detrimental effect on the psychological health of its users. However, the extent to which the use of social media impacts the public is yet to be determined. This systematic review has found that social media envy can affect the level of anxiety and depression in individuals. In addition, other potential causes of anxiety and depression have been identified, which require further exploration.

The importance of such findings is to facilitate further research on social media and mental health. In addition, the information obtained from this study can be helpful not only to medical professionals but also to social science research. The findings of this study suggest that potential causal factors from social media can be considered when cooperating with patients who have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Also, if the results from this study were used to explore more relationships with another construct, this could potentially enhance the findings to reduce anxiety and depression rates and prevent suicide rates from occurring.

The content published in Cureus is the result of clinical experience and/or research by independent individuals or organizations. Cureus is not responsible for the scientific accuracy or reliability of data or conclusions published herein. All content published within Cureus is intended only for educational, research and reference purposes. Additionally, articles published within Cureus should not be deemed a suitable substitute for the advice of a qualified health care professional. Do not disregard or avoid professional medical advice due to content published within Cureus.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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Impacts of Social Media on Mental Health : A case study with students at Oulu University of Applied Sciences

Thapa, bisu (2018).

social media mental health case study

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