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Sinking into Depression? Why Social Media Use May be to Blame

The wide accessibility of social media platforms on electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and computers has given rise to a number of health conditions, including depression. In fact, the excessive use of social media among young adults could lead to an increased risk for depression as well as other health issues. According to a national survey conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health (CRMTH), "people who report using seven to 11 social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety than their peers who use zero to two platforms."[1] While the ability to stay plugged in in this fast-paced society has become the norm, it is fraught with peril.



The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that over 15 million adults age 18 or older have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Depression is defined as "a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general." [2] While it is a treatable condition, it can severely impact a person’s day-to-day life.

From MySpace to Twitter to Facebook to Snapchat, the ever-changing scope of social media has altered more than the digital landscape. As users continue to be inundated with emerging social media sites, it would not be surprising to see depression numbers rise. The University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health (CRMTH) survey cannot currently confirm the reason behind the connection between increased multi-platform social media use and depression but have presented a few initial theories:

  • Multitasking, as would happen when switching between platforms, is known to be related to poor cognitive and mental health outcomes.
  • The distinct set of unwritten rules, cultural assumptions and idiosyncrasies of each platform are increasingly difficult to navigate when the number of platforms used rises, which could lead to negative mood and emotions.
  • There is more opportunity to commit a social media faux pas when using multiple platforms, which can lead to repeated embarrassments. 1


Additionally, people who suffer from sleep apnea may be at an even greater risk for depression. This risk factor coupled with an existing dependence on social media creates an almost perfect storm for a higher likelihood of depression. In 2012, researchers from the Center for Disease Control found a link between sleep apnea and depression. According to their findings, sleep disruption can lead to increased risk of depression. Neuromuscular dentist Dr. David Buck treats many patients who suffer from sleep apnea, and he sees a direct correlation between the disease and the patient’s overall health.

"It’s a disease that affects every area of life," Buck said. "It often goes untreated for many years which does damage. While that person’s untreated, their quality of life is affected. They don’t function very well. Sleep has multiple functions that are necessary for longevity and for quality of life."

Because the human body is designed to refuel and rejuvenate during sleep, sleep disturbances can be significantly harmful to both the body and the mind. The physiological and emotional impact of sleep apnea could be the trigger for depression. In fact, many experts suggest that sleep protects the brain. Other experts believe the lack of oxygen during sleep apnea episodes can cause problems in the body and brain that lead to depression. Comparatively, there is also a theory that indicates sleep apnea causes bodily inflammation that affects neurotransmitter activity. While there are a number of treatment options available to patients, Buck is hopeful sleep apnea can be cured.

"There’s been great research and ongoing development of a new understanding of how we can treat to a different standard," Buck said. "If we do the correct orthopedic development strategies and mild functional therapies, there’s a very good chance we could cure it such that we don’t have adults needing to be treated for sleep apnea."

Both multi-platform social media use and sleep apnea have given rise to the prevalence of depression in the U.S. Unplugging from technology has become almost impossible as made evident by a 2015 Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility Report which reported that 71% of respondents sleep with or next to their smartphones. Limiting social media and/or seeking treatment for sleep apnea can help decrease a person’s risk of developing depression.

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