Social Media Use and Depression: Does Cyberbullying Fit into the Equation?

Photo Credit: Vernon Barford School Library via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Vernon Barford School Library via Compfight cc

Last week we wrote an article about the increase in rates of suicide.  One of the major predictors of adolescent suicide is having depression.  Some are concerned about articles finding an association between social media use and depression, such as a recent article one of our former team members, Laura Lin, authored. This association though needs further exploration, so which comes first: depression or using social media? Or, like other things in depressed youth, are they more likely to use social media, which may be harmless to some, in a more harmful way?

An interesting study from Canada that came out this fall was looking at the relationship between cyberbullying, depression, suicide attempts, and social media use.  This study looked at a large sample of adolescents aged 11 to 20 who completed the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey in 2013.  It measured social media use by amount of time spent on social media and separated two groups from the data: users who use social media on a daily or irregular basis and non-users who do not use social media but use the Internet.  Cyberbullying victimization was defined as being bullied or picked on over the Internet in the last 12 months. The study used a mediation model to understand if cyberbullying victimization explains the relationship between social media use and psychological distress. Interestingly, they found that once you put cyberbullying victimization into the equation, the relationship between social media use and psychological distress, and social media use and suicide attempts goes away.

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Some limitations include the way the authors grouped social media use  into whether someone uses it or doesn’t use it. We know most adolescents do use social media, so it might be helpful to know whether the amount of use is important.  The same author did find that the more adolescents used social media, the more they were exposed to cyberbullying. Also this was just a one-time cross sectional study so it would help to have data from more time-points. Nonetheless, studies like this help give us a clue as to what is it about social media use that might contribute to depression. We know everyone is using it so knowing how to guide young people about safe use is important. Cyberbullying is known to be correlated with suicidal ideation, self-harm, and depression in young people.

There are several resources out there to help prevent and address cyberbullying and of course there is more work to do.

Here are a few places to explore about how to counsel youth about cyberbullying with advice on being a positive bystander and how to report:


cyberbullying research center

And lastly, the best way we can teach our children is to be responsible online adults!

Thanks for listening! Please share any feedback below.



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