It’s a habit all too many of us have: whenever we have a little downtime during the day, we may check Facebook to like our family’s baby photos, our friends’ political opinions, or the latest cute cat pictures.
The only problem: a scientific study shows that checking Facebook hits your mental health every time you use it — and the more you use it, the more depressed you’ll be.
A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows just how much the social media platform affects our mental health.
According to a write-up in the Harvard Business Review by the study’s authors, “overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year,” they wrote.
While this certainly isn’t the first time people have studied this concept, this study continues to shed light on why the platform is actually harmful during work hours, when you need your mood and sense of positive progress at their strongest.
Don’t rely on Facebook to feel good about yourself
Part of the reason Facebook ends up being more harmful than other social networks that may be similar: we check Facebook far more often. Chances are, if you use Facebook, you check it more than once a day.
In 2016, Pew Research Center reported that 76% of Facebook users said they check it every day—55% check the social media site multiple times per day and 22% about once every day. In 2015, 70% of users said they check it every day.
That’s a lot of exposure.
The study in the American Journal of Epidemiology took a look at information on 5,208 people over three years, examining “social network measures, in combination with objective measures of Facebook use.”
The researchers studied different factors of well-being, including self-reported mental health, life satisfaction and body-mass index, or BMI. They examined Facebook usage in terms of clicking links, “liking” what others had posted, and participants making their own posts.
Facebook makes you lonelier
The report said that since people having trouble in the well-being department “may be more likely to seek solace or attempt to alleviate loneliness by excessively using Facebook in the first place,” the links between Facebook usage and jeopardized well-being could result from that.
Having and socializing with real-life friends, face to face, was a key to higher life satisfaction— using Facebook was linked to less of this quality.
According to their model, “a 1-standard-deviation increase” in the amount of “likes clicked,” or “links clicked” or “status updates” was linked to “a decrease of 5%–8% of a standard deviation in self-reported mental health.”
Both well-being and mental health took a hit when it came to the measures of Facebook usage. Liking people’s posts and clicking on links jeopardized well-being, while the number of status updates was linked to decreases in mental health.
The negative aspects of using the platform “were comparable to” or more than what resulted from good things that happened with people offline, which the researchers said “suggests a possible tradeoff between offline and online relationships.”
Although using Facebook seemed to bring down well-being, the researchers couldn’t say specifically how. The data seems to say that how much time you spend on Facebook matters, not just what you do there —which contradicts past research. It’s a mystery still to be solved.
Facebook, drainer of batteries and life force
The negative effect of many social networks is that it’s so easy to compare yourself to others online.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that “perhaps, more Facebook views and/or spending a greater amount of time on Facebook on a daily basis both allow participants greater opportunity to spontaneously socially compare themselves to their peers, which in turn is associated with an increase in daily depressive symptoms.”
The research consisted of two small-scale studies, the first with 180 people and the second with 152 people.
Additionally, it turns out that using the Facebook app on your cell has an enormous effect on how long it lasts between charges— in an Inc.com article, John Koetsier reported that the Facebook app killed off a whopping 47% in his phone’s battery life.
Next time you open the Facebook app at lunch, think of the toll it could be taking your mind—and phone.
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