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Heavy Facebook, Twitter users 3 times more likely to be depressed

Technically Incorrect: A new University of Pittsburgh study suggests there is a correlation between overuse of the likes of Facebook and depression. That doesn't mean social media causes depression.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Does Facebook make you miserable? Or when you're miserable, do you turn to Facebook?

Jochen Eckel/dpa/Corbis

How long do you spend on Facebook?

Do you log on often?

Or do you keep it on your screen all day, checking and checking? Do you occasionally post?

This may say something about you. Or it may not. It may also say something about Facebook and other social media. Or, again, it may not.

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests those of us who are heavy users of social media are 2.7 times more likely to suffer from depression than those of who check less frequently.

Moreover, those in the study who spent the most time on social media were 1.7 times more likely to suffer from depression than those who spent least time.

The study looked at the use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

It examined 1,787 adults between the ages of 19 and 32. Average social media use was 61 minutes per day and the average number of visits to a social media site was 30 a week.

It's easy to leap to the conclusion that Facebook makes you miserable. Indeed, 2013 research from the University of Michigan suggested that Facebook actively "undermines" well-being in young adults.

As far back as 2009, research from Stony Brook University concluded that too much Facebook makes teenage girls depressed.

However, in this case, lead researcher Lui yi Lin said even though the link between one factor and the other seems strong, the deep truth behind the link may be complex.

"It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void," she said on the University's Web site. There's also the possibility, she added, that social media might cause depression, which then causes more social media use.

Dr. Brian Primack, director of Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health insisted that not all social media interaction or usage is the same.

"Future studies should examine whether there may be different risks for depression depending on whether the social media interactions people have tend to be more active vs. passive or whether they tend to be more confrontational vs. supportive," he said.

Perhaps it's just like any other interaction with the world. Some work out for our psychological benefit, others don't.

There's also the issue of potential short-term benefits and potential long-term harm.

It's easy to preach moderation, but much harder to act on it yourself. Facebook and the like have partly become so powerful because everyone has chosen to participate and many have clearly become hooked.

It's enough to make you miserable.