According to a new study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine, the link between social media use and depressive symptoms in 14-year-olds may be much stronger for girls than boys, CNN reports.
Among teens who use social media the most — more than five hours a day — the study showed a 50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls versus 35% among boys, when their symptoms were compared with those who use social media for only one to three hours daily. Yet the study, conducted in the UK, showed only an association between social media use and symptoms of depression, which can include feelings of unhappiness, restlessness or loneliness. The findings cannot prove that frequent social media use caused depressive symptoms, or vice versa. The study also described other factors, such as lack of sleep and cyberbullying, that could help explain this association.
For the study, researchers analyzed data on 10,904 14-year-olds who were born between 2000 and 2002 in the United Kingdom. The data, which came from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, included information from questionnaires on the teens’ depressive symptoms and social media use. Depressive symptoms were recorded as scores, and the researchers looked at which teens had high or low scores. They found that on average, girls had higher depressive symptom scores compared with boys. The researchers also found that girls reported more social media use than boys; 43.1% of girls said they used social media for three or more hours per day, versus 21.9% of boys. The data showed that for teens using social media for three to five hours, 26% of girls and 21% of boys had depressive symptom scores higher than those who used social media for only about one to three hours a day.
As for the gender gap, Yvonne Kelly, first author of the study and professor of epidemiology and public health, believes it has to do with “the types of things that girls and boys do online.”
“In the UK, girls tend to more likely use things like Snapchat or Instagram, which is more based around physical appearance, taking photographs and commenting on those photographs,” she said. “I think it has to do with the nature of use.”