Therapy for ‘problematic’ social media use could help ease depression

Researchers from University College London analysed studies from across the globe on social media use interventions.

Doctors should offer depressed patients therapy to help overcome “problematic” social media use and improve their mental health, researchers have suggested.

A study conducted by University College London explored potential interventions for those pre-occupied with social media.

It comes after a Swedish study in 2021 linked over-use of social media to other addictive behaviours and mental distress.

UCL described “problematic” use as “when a person’s pre-occupation with social media results in a distraction from their primary tasks and the neglect of responsibilities in other aspects of their life”.

It added: “Previous research has suggested that social media use can become problematic when it starts to interfere with a person’s daily life and leads to poor mental wellbeing, including depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness.”

Researchers from UCL searched more than 2,700 experimental studies from across the globe, which were conducted between 2004 and 2022 and evaluated the impact of social media use interventions on the mental wellbeing of adults.

Some 23 studies were analysed for the report, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Of those, 39% found interventions around social media use improved mental wellbeing.

Therapy-based interventions were most effective and improved mental health in 83% of studies compared to abstaining from social media (25%) or limiting the use of platforms (20%).

Depression was the most investigated condition, with 70% of studies showing an improved outcome following intervention.

Dr Ruth Plackett of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health, who is also lead author of the study, said: “Mental health issues are on the rise, as is the number of people who use social media.

“Health and care professionals should be aware that reducing time spent on social media is unlikely to benefit mental wellbeing on its own.

“Instead, taking a more therapy-based approach and reflecting on how and why we are interacting with social media and managing those behaviours could help improve mental health.”

Study author and GP Dr Patricia Schartau added: “As primary care physicians, we should proactively explore social media use and its effects on mental health in patients who present with anxiety and/or low mood in order to give those patients the opportunity to benefit from treatment including some of the more effective interventions outlined in our review.”

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