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PhD Student’s Social Media/Depression Research

Jess Schulz came to the University of Delaware in 2010 to pursue her doctorate in the College of Education and Human Development. It wasn’t an easy journey for her, but working closely with her advisor, she identified a research topic that intrigued her–evaluating the potential impact the use of social media may have on depression in emerging adults (ages 18-23)–and completed both her dissertation and her doctorate degree. Clearly, this topic was of interest to a wider audience than Schulz ever imagined. When she posted her dissertation on ProQuest (Social media use and depression in emerging adults: The moderating effect of parental support), it became one of the 25 Most-Accessed Dissertations and Theses for that month.  


To begin her research, Schulz established goals: to examine the prevalence of social media use, gender differences in social media use, the relationship between social media use and depression, and the level of social media use in predicting depression, and to assess whether parental support moderated the relationship between social media use and depression. Results of her research indicate that the relationship between social media use and depression is a bi- directional relationship, meaning an individual may influence the context and the context in turn may affect the individual. There is evidence that the more frequently individuals use social media, the more likely they are to have higher scores of depression. In comparison, those individuals who are already depressed may seek out and use social media more frequently as a coping mechanism, to psychologically escape or cope with their current situations. Although parental support did not moderate the relationship between social media use and depression, different types of social support may be paramount in playing a protective role for social media users developing depression. Perhaps it is not parental support, per se, that may moderate the relationship between social media use and depression but it may be how parents feel about their children’s social media use that could moderate this relationship. If emerging adults feel that their parents think negatively about their social media use, this might incite conflict and may further propagate the effects social media use may have on depression. Future research should continue to study the relationship between social media use and depression both longitudinally and experimentally to understand the causal pattern of this relationship.  


Results from the present study highlight the importance of understanding the complicated relationship between social media use and depression. Individuals are so heavily connected to each other in today’s society and many popular news media outlets are coming to the conclusion that this constant connection may have negative consequences, without scientific evidence. Given the mixed findings, results from this study paint a picture suggesting that all social media may not be inherently negative and might not have as much of a negative effect as people would like to believe. The negative dialogue that surrounds social media use may be unwarranted, but it is clear that the highest level of social media users warrant our concern and attention. Schulz indicates that future researchers should use these findings to inform their next steps in analyzing how social media use may incite higher levels of depression or how heavily depressed individuals might use social media as a coping mechanism. They can be used to inform future interventions that could buffer the harmful effects heavy social media use may inflict on individuals. Current research regarding social media and the effects on our lives is woefully inadequate. In a world where individuals have the Internet at their fingertips and are spending large amounts of time online, further research needs to address how this context might affect its users.Longitudinal studies are warranted from a public health perspective, as well as micro-health viewpoint, to address and utilize these tools for better health for all individuals.