Social media obsessives can be weaned off their addiction to the benefit of their mental health, suggests a new study.
Receiving therapy for “problematic” social media use can be effective in improving the mental well-being of people with depression, according to the findings.
It was estimated last year that more than 4.5 billion people used at least one form of social media – and the sites have changed how people keep in touch, form relationships and perceive each other.
Problematic use is defined 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.
The new study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that social media use interventions really can help adults for whom social media use has become problematic or interferes with their mental health.
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 well-being, – including depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness.
Social media use interventions – including abstaining from or limiting use of social media, alongside therapy-based techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – have been developed and evaluated.
University College London (UCL) researchers analyzed 23 studies which included participants from all over the world, between 2004 and 2022.
They found that in more than a third of studies (39 percent) social media use interventions improved mental well-being.
The team said improvements were particularly notable in depression as 70 percent of studies saw a “significant” improvement in symptoms following the intervention.
Therapy-based interventions were most effective – improving mental well-being in 83 percent of studies, compared to 20 percent of studies finding an improvement where social media use was limited and 25 percent where social media was given up entirely.
Study lead author Dr. Ruth Plackett 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 well-being 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 behavious 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.”
While some studies report that social media sites can be beneficial to users and provide them with increased social support, other evidence links them with depression, anxiety and other psychological problems – particularly in youngsters.
The UCL team hope that their findings will help to develop guidance and recommendations for policymakers and doctors on how best to manage problematic social media use.
But they said, further research is needed to investigate who may benefit most from social media use interventions.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker