Does Social Media increase depression?

Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Dr. Jean Twenge. Dr. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, consultant, and author of over 110 scientific publications. Jean will also be a speaker at our National Leadership Forum this summer in Atlanta. Here are some highlights from our conversation.


Tim Elmore: Our topic today surrounds the mental health of this emerging population of students. I want to peek inside the mind of these students. Talk about who these students are and the term you like to use for them.

Jean Twenge: I think that there is a generational break between the Millennials and the generation after them, which I like to call iGen. iGen has never known a world without the internet. They were also getting into their adolescent years when smartphones became available. It looks like there are some trends in mental health among young people that started to change right around 2011 or 2012, when smartphones gained market saturation. That means that iGen is currently about 21 years old and under. So that includes not just grade school and high school students, but also university and college students as well.

Tim: Well, I love how you set that up because we do see some angst and different mental health issues that emerge with the students who have always been online and always on a screen. What have you seen when it comes to their mental health?

Jean: There is growing evidence that mental health issues are increasing among teens. First, and most serious, the suicide rate among young people has started picking up again. Suicide rate for those around ages 15-24, according to the Center for Disease Control data, has started to increase. That might be because more young people are depressed. About 50% more teens are suffering from anxiety and depression. The latest data, goes from 8% in 2010 to 12% in 2015. That is a pretty significant increase in a very short period of time.

So, would you say some of the causes are social media and smartphones?

Jean: There is a lot of theory that has been introduced to explain why there might be an increase with mental health challenges and anxiety. I think you have to look at two criteria. First, does it correlate with depression or mental health issues among the population and individuals? And we know from a lot of research on social media, that yes, in most studies it does. Those that spend a lot of time on social media have more mental health issues. Second, do the two things increase at the same time and in the same direction? The answer to that is yes, as well. I don’t think we have a conviction yet. That is what makes me think social media is at least a suspect.

It is not just an issue of social media and spending time online. The question we need an answer for is what about it is creating or leading to these mental health issues? For example, is it comparison to other people’s lives, cyber bullying, and constant connectedness? Always, you have to look at the side effects of social media.


Tim: I agree. I would love to talk about what are some practical action steps that educators or parents could take to help students mature in a healthy way.

Jean: I think my first suggestion is we have to get those smartphones out of their hands and our own hands, as well. I think the more data that is coming out about mental health and its connections to social media, the more negative it gets. As a practical suggestion, a friend of mine’s son went to middle school this year in our neighborhood. He was taking the bus, so for safety reasons they wanted to get him a phone. They got him a flip phone, so he can call them and he can text. He can say things like, “Mom I’m almost here” and get his message across, but he doesn’t have Snapchat in his hand all the time.

Tim: Interesting. I have so appreciated your insights, and I can hardly wait to read this data that is in your book that will be coming out in August 2017. We look forward to having you at our National Leadership Forum in June. I am anxious for you to not only impart your insights to our audience of educators, but also to allow them to ask you questions.

I hope you take time during your drive to listen to the whole conversation. Click below to listen to the full discussion.

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