The Guardian newspaper reports that research in the United Kingdom suggests link between social media use and depressive symptoms was stronger for girls compared with boys
Girls’ much-higher rate of depression than boys is closely linked to the greater time they spend on social media, and online bullying and poor sleep are the main culprits for their low mood, new research reveals.
As many as three-quarters of 14-year-old girls who suffer from depression also have low self-esteem, are unhappy with how they look and sleep for seven hours or less each night, the study found.
“Girls, it seems, are struggling with these aspects of their lives more than boys, in some cases considerably so,” said Prof Yvonne Kelly, from University College London, who led the team behind the findings.
The results prompted renewed concern about the rapidly accumulating evidence that many more girls and young women exhibit a range of mental health problems than boys and young men, and about the damage these can cause, including self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
The study is based on interviews with almost 11,000 14-year-olds who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study, a major research project into children’s lives.
It found that many girls spend far more time using social media than boys, and also that they are much more likely to display signs of depression linked to their interaction on platforms such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook.
It found that two in five girls are on social media at least three hours a day compared to a fifth of their male peers. While one in 10 boys do not use social media at all, only 4% of girls said the same.
“The link between social media use and depressive symptoms was stronger for girls compared with boys. For girls, greater daily hours of social media use corresponded to a stepwise increase in depressive symptoms,” explained Kelly.
For example, while 7.5% of 14-year-old girls and 4.3% of 14-year-old boys have been the victim of online harassment, 35.6% of girls who are depressed have experienced that – double the 17.4% of boys who have done so. Among teenagers who had perpetrated online bullying, 32.8% of girls and 7.9% of boys were depressed.
Social media is also closely associated with poor sleeping habits, especially among 14-year-olds showing clinical signs of depression. While just 5.4% of girls and 2.7% of boys overall said they slept for seven hours or less, 48.4% of girls with low mood and 19.8% of such boys said the same. Half of depressed girls and a quarter of depressed boys said that they suffer from disrupted sleep “most of the time”.
The authors say the sleep disruption is due to young people staying up late to use social media and being woken up by alerts coming in to their phones beside their beds. Their findings were published in EClinicalMedicine, a journal published by the Lancet medical journal.