Do Social Media Harm the Mental Health of Youth? Probably Not.

Time spent on social media has been blamed for increased suicides and depression, just as were other new technologies and pastimes such as phones and Dungeons and Dragons.

… but is social media the real culprit? Or are we engaged in a moral panic, perhaps not understanding the root of the problem? One major limitation of the current literature is that the vast majority of research on SNSs and mental health are cross sectional and cannot speak to developmental change over time or direction of effects. Additionally, research to date rely on traditional regression techniques that model between-person relations among variables. These techniques ignore individual processes that are vital to our understanding of the true relationship between these variables. Thus, the aim of the current study is to test a causal model of the associations between time spent using social media and mental health (anxiety and depression), using both between and within subjects analyses, over an 8-year-period of time, encompassing the transition between adolescence and emerging adulthood.

That’s from an impressive, 8-year long study. It’s not a random experiment but this is the most credible research on the question I have read to date.

Of course, this raises the question of why mental health is down and fragility is up among the young. One answer is that the evidence on mental fragility is flimsy, which is true in general, but the data on suicides is reasonably good and suicides among youth have increased a lot since 2000. I’m not sure of the answers but although social media fit the time trend I now down weight that explanation.

Hat tip: The awesome Rolf Degen.


It certainly harmed the mental health of some oldmen. And this national nightmare: invoke the 25th Amendment.

He's Back.

I can't believe our President was in cahoots with Russia and Red China all the time to hurt our alliances and weaken America. Yet, the facts soeak for themselves. First the Kurds, now Brazil.
"Trump, Trump, show us your hand. For thirty pieces of silver you sell our land."

Alternative History: Hillary won in 2016. In 2030, little Hercules Mulligan asks his grandfather, "What did you do in the great war to save the Kurds, Grandpa?" Grandpa, "I was deployed six times over 15 years, and grew massive blisters on my arse."

If President Trump were in Putin's and Xi's "pockets," he'd be acting toward Russia and China as did Obama and Biden. He is precisely doing the opposite. Facts matter, girls.

Maybe a steady diet of climate doom served up in the government schools has something to do with it.

San Francisco is going to spend $587,000,000 to protect their airport from sea level rise. If only they knew it was all in their imagination.

They have a number very expensive fantasies.

I’m a connoisseur of these “Sea levels are rising and x will be underwater” stories. They have a common theme - no actual inundation, but you just wait 50 or 100 years!

NASA says Sea Level Will Rise 1-4 feet by 2100

But you certainly should know that, and that a lot of built infrastructure is not ready for 1-4 feet.

Or are you too crazy to believe NASA?

Thanks for proving my point.

Now for somereality .

Maybe you need an "Engineer" to help you with the math. SFO says they have 3 feet of safety with current seawalls. NASA says 1-4 foot rise.

2100 is 80 years away. Engineer says wait 25 years and observe status at that point.

Besides, we are all supposed to be dead in 12 years anyway, right.

When in the past have sea levels been static?

Sea levels have fallen and risen before, and buildings | docks | farms | etc., were inundated or left high and dry and people didn't act like the world was ending. The fear mongering stoked by the media is out of control.

I think that is an anti-Brazilian, pro-Trump impersonator.

That is the anti-Zimbabwe, pro-Putin impersonator.

There can be only on true Thomas. And that is I!

Haha, those idiots
In New Orleans and New York City and Miami are so deluded they actually thought their cities were flooded!

Here in Toronto we have some islands about a mile out in Lake Ontario that have been used for residence and recreation for the past 100 years or so. They’ve become nearly unusable due to flooding in the past three years. Haha just kidding, I’m delusional!

Embrace change.

i am in no way a climate change denier, but the water level of the Great Lakes has nothing to do with climate change.

Like sea level rise is a fantasy now.

As I say, social media propagates crazy talk, and reduces your experience of what is actually normal.

Yeah! From Young Werther to the Young and Weather. The Goethe explanation.

Tyler just posted a bleg for “LGBT discrimination economics resources” right before you made this. I wonder what Jung might say about that?

Degeneracy is real. Lack of discipline has consequences. Not being allowed to have unashamed cultural and gendered traditions has consequences.

"Treating gays and women as human beings is destroying America."
If only we kept the Blacks in the back of the buses, we would be saved. I also have heard there are Catholics celebrating Masses in these very States.

I thought Tyler was more interested in the correlation between trait:SuccessfulLGBTPerson and trait:CareerType. I’m sure that’s useful information for someone, but it’s not very interesting to me.

As for your commentary, I strongly disagree that LGBT = degeneracy (if that’s what you implied). At the same time, no one should be opposed to what you personally find attractive in women as long as you aren’t hostile to “non-traditional” relationships or women that diverge from your expectations. They did you no wrong by being who they are and who they want to be. Et vivere, reservate.

As for youth fragility, it’s a consequence of the new economy. Kids can’t be kids anymore, because they’re climbing a ladder to a small platform with limited room. They have to do more HW, more thinking about their career, more preparation for college, and more extracurriculars. If they climb the ladder too slow, it’s tempting to stop climbing or jump off.

That is all made worse by the decrease in social support. We haven’t yet adapted to being a multi-racial society. In the 1960’s, if John William McNulty Jr. IV was struggling in school, he was more likely to get academic help from his teacher (smaller classes). More importantly, little Johnny was more likely to come from a middle or upper class white, Protestant family. Johnny boy had 3 generations of family with careers across the spectrum in several different states, and they tell him things like “you’re a good boy, we’ll take care of you” over Thanksgiving dinner after playing with his 15 cousins. Johnny got a neat-O first job shuttling his dad’s successful friends around on the golf course, no interview necessary. He didn’t have to join any clubs, and he barely had homework. He got to be a kid and play baseball with his buddies on the block. All the while, he had ambient confidence that his adulthood will be as secure as his childhood. Sure enough, in his $600/year college, he got hooked up with a Wall Street job from the father of one of his brothers at Delta Upsilon. In the roaring 80’s, John became a millionaire. In 2019, he’s complaining on Facebook about fragile snow flake kids these days that feel entitled to success.

I have no problem with how John was raised. That’s wonderful. There’s no “bad whitey” conspiracy keeping people from having John’s life, but he was lucky. In a multiracial society with globalization and automation, we need to exercise systems-thinking to enhance our social and economic fabric. We need to bring security back to people’s lives.

I think mental health is down because liberal philosophy of have sex with whatever, wherever and whenever and then destroy any life that came from it is depressing and makes people want to kill themselves.

Well... drug use, sex, and pregnancy are down for the teenage population. Want to try another theory?

I had never felt ashamed of America before. How can our children grow healthy when we live under the madman-in-chief?!

Thank you, Barack

"It’s not a random experiment but this is the most credible research..."

exacyly how did Alex determine that this was the most credible research to date?

science deals in facts, not subjective beliefs, impressions, and credibility.

"Mental Health" itself is a vague theory that cannot be objectively measured... nor causally tied to the dozens of variables involved.

Amazing. A post about social media and mental health .. and every single response is a mentally unbalanced troll.

Maybe social media facilities contagion? Or just degrades standards of "health."

Damn, if that isn't the pot calling the kettle black.

That's funny. If I have a problem, it's that my predictions have been too good. I'd like to have more humility, but darned if I wasn't right.

If anything, I should Upgrade My Confidence.

Wow, I am bad at links today.

Just more evidence of your Trump derangement.

I don't know who that is, but good one.

Yes, the federal indictments is are all in my head, and if you see them too, contact a physician.

It's even worse if you see an impeachment in progress.

You're probably dead.

Predicting Trump would break some laws in office doesn't make you Nostradamus. It doesn't even elevate you above "typical Trump-derangement moron ranting on the internet to no one in particular" status.

I’ve correctly called every ball and strike over the last three years.

Trump is a Russian asset? Called it
Trump would be proven guilty by Mueller? Called it
Every foreign policy move would be dictated by Russia? Called it
NRA was a Russian asset? Called it
Republican Party is a Russian asset? Called it
Cohen would go to prison ? Called it
Trump would be impeached? Called it

One of us is living in the real world. And it’s me.

There is a positive correlation between the increase in suicides and the decrease in smoking.

The states want the tax revenue.

"Social media--safe and effective when used as directed." Someone should get the Amer. Psych. Assn. to issue such a soothing endorsement for hardware manufacturers and software developers.

--but what human being, adolescent or adult, bothers with reading directions these days, especially when it comes to tech appliances, devices, and gadgets?

Thomas Szasz may've gotten some things wrong, but his dismissal of the "mental health" trope in pop psychobabble surely was closer to whatever truth actually abides about humans equipped with brains and mentalities.

Psychiatrists apparently are far too eager to lie to unsuspecting humanity about the power and value of "metaphorical science" in treating metaphorical illnesses, since they still don't know enough about brain physiology to treat unhealthy mentalities effectively with actual physical sciences. (When not addicted to metaphorical science, "mental health practitioners" remain addicted to pharmacological counseling--an application of physical science to the "treatment" of metaphorical illness, which is approximately as stupid as treating metaphoric illness with metaphoric science.)

Suicide rates have been on the rise since the first few years of this century, but it is approximately where it was in the 1980s and lower than where it was in the early 1990s ( I don't think we're going to understand what affects changes in suicide rates if researchers don't look at all the variation they can.

The answer to this question will be known many years from now, so asking it now is the journalistic equivalent of "Are we there yet?"

A more salient one is whether, if we *were* able to successfully answer it, and in the affirmative, would anyone be open to course-correcting?
Is it worthwhile to ask a question the answer to which will either be ignored if unpleasant, or used to reassure people that the thing they find easy to do, but may have lingering qualms about, is the right thing to do?

I notice a lot of news articles framed in this almost therapeutic way: don't worry, you're doing great [grrrl!]. Democracy dies in darkness - but dumb folk wisdom dies in the light of studies! I guess it's the opposite of yellow journalism. Purple journalism?

"Trump, Trump, show us your hand. For thirty pieces of silver you sell our land."

Hey, Woody Guthrie, people who own there land take care of it. And protect it from socialist thieves.

Have you heard of the breakdown of the family? Plantation politics?

Suicides are up in the US since 2000. In Western Europe and Japan (presumably also hotbeds of social media use) they are down an average of 20% or so.

The education process, which is more a signalling exercise than training for work, has become significantly more stressful as the stakes have grown higher. Scoring well in the various signalling exercises through high school and college matters too much in their impact on the economic and social future of young people. Their arbitrary nature, the fact that the outcome of these signalling exercises actually reveals little about people's capability to do various jobs, adds to the stress level.

The domain of the conclusion-- 'impact mental health'-- is likely far broader than the study. Without paying $19.95 to read the thing, the highlights suggest that the researchers looked at anxiety and depression. Did the researchers examine changes in Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, anorexia, or inability to form intimate sexual relationships?

This study, Alex, is what those of us in the real world call BS.

None of us have any idea of whether social media hurts the mental health of youth. The right answer is probably: It depends. Social media does, at least, make the world very different, and for this I don’t like it.

Also, what is mental health supposed to mean anyway? A whole debate fought over a vague metaphor

What is Mental health?
Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and its corollary: substance abuse.

Rigid terms to describe the infinitely nuanced experience of being human

Some people believe that President Donald Trump is more interested in making deals than promoting human rights. I don't necessarily disagree with that nor do I necessarily agree. To some extent it depends on whether we listen to what he says versus observe what he does. In either case we can debate whether it is making America Great again, or whether America was ever Great, or whether at some point it ceased to be Great hence needs to be made Great again. We might also debate whether it is a good thing for America to be Great. Perhaps there is virtue in just Doing No Harm, or Being Average.

Where to start. The title of this post is a "chef's kiss" example of an ill-posed, impossible to anwer proposition.

Credential inflation is the culprit, I believe. Parents are constantly demanding and expecting more from their kids, particularly in academics. And why wouldn't they considering how much tougher it is to get a decent job with a college degree now than it was a decade ago. Of course social media amplifies that by allowing people to show how so perfect their lives are, eliciting comparisons and envy from others. I can only see this trend getting worse.

Social media being bad for mental health does not imply a link between time spent on it and mental health.

Exactly! Social media changes in subtle and significant ways the very social milieu within which our youngsters become adults

1. Hypothesis for explaining teens' fragility: a) This is the 1st (maybe the 2nd) generation to spend most of their lives indoors. b) old men bias? We always say "this new generation can't stand anything".
2. The study has shifted my epistemic status a little bit, but my own experience is that my welfare increases as I drop social networks. An easier study: just design an RCT where some teens drop social network for 6 months. (Maybe one could even let some of them use Google + as a placebo)

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