Using Facebook actually makes you feel depressed, research says

Key Points
  • Using Facebook frequently can make you feel depressed
  • Real social interactions have a positive effect on well-being
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook
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If you're wondering why you may feel down in the dumps after you browse Facebook, a new study has evidence that the social network might be to blame.

The report, titled "Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study," was published in the February issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology and written about more recently by Harvard Business Review.

It argues that using Facebook regularly can have a negative effect on a person's well-being. Conversely, participating in "real world" social networks can have a positive effect on health.

"Exposure to the carefully curated images from others' lives leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences," the report says.

In other words, this study seems to show exactly why you might feel really great after hanging out with friends on the beach, but pretty down on yourself after spending time surfing Facebook alone.

"These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year," said researchers Holly Shakya with the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis with the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. "We found consistently that both liking others' content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction."

The evidence even applied to people who were already using Facebook. If a test subject used the social network even more, the researchers found there was still an association "with a likelihood of diminished future well-being," showing that "compromised well-being is a dynamic process."

The report didn't dig into other social networks like Snapchat or Instagram and how they might affect our well being, too, but they probably do, especially if the interactions aren't truly as meaningful as they might seem.

"While screen time in general can be problematic, the tricky thing about social media is that while we are using it, we get the impression that we are engaging in meaningful social interaction," the researchers said. "Our results suggest that the nature and quality of this sort of connection is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life."

Time to put down your smartphone and attend a cocktail party instead.

Correction: This story was revised to correct Shakya's affiliation to the University of California, San Diego.