Trading Social Media for In-Person Interaction May Reduce Depressive Symptoms in LGBT Youth
A new study suggests that, over time, frequent social media use can impact depressive symptoms in LGBTQ youth.
When LGBTQ teens in the study attended a social media-free summer camp, they experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms. The findings, published in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, highlight the positive influence of taking a “social media break” within a supportive environment on mental health, especially for LGBTQ youth.
The study also reveals the value of face-to-face interactions and how many youth may be unaware of the mental health benefits they could experience by exchanging social media time for positive face-to-face interactions.
According to author Traci Gillig, an assistant professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, social media use can potentially foster a positive sense of self and a perception of being valued in a society or community — or it may do the opposite, which can affect teens’ psychological well-being.
Young people who struggle with more negative emotional or psychological symptoms are at higher risk than their peers of developing problematic online use patterns in an attempt to ease mental distress, which can lead to problematic usage patterns for some.
Previous research has found that nearly half of youth (42%) report that social media has taken away from in-person, face-to-face time with friends in today’s digital age. Many young people also report feelings of social exclusion, which is popularly referred to today as the term FOMO (i.e., “fear of missing out”).
In the new study, LGBTQ youth ages 12-18 were surveyed before and after attending a social media-free summer leadership camp for LGBTQ youth. Survey questions looked at the link between youth’s social media use prior to camp and changes in their depressive symptoms during the program.
While looking at the role of social media use in changes in depressive symptoms over time, the researchers came upon significant findings. Before attending the camp, the average number of hours the teens spent using social media each day was about four hours and depressive symptoms among participants was moderate. By the end of the social media-free camp, depressive symptoms had been reduced by about half.
Young people with the highest levels of pre-camp social media use tended to experience a more “across the board” reduction in depressive symptoms. Gillig believes this can be attributed to the social, affirming camp setting that may have filled a critical need of social interaction for the high-volume social media users.
The study results demonstrate the value of face-to-face interactions and how many youth may be unaware of the psychological benefits they could experience by trading social media time for face-to-face interactions in supportive contexts.
In addition, face-to-face interactions can be even more beneficial for marginalized groups, including LGBTQ teens, who may not have access to supportive contacts within their local community. Affirming programming that brings together LGBTQ youth for in-person relationship development, such as camps for LGBTQ individuals, shows promise to improve youth mental health trajectories.
Gillig hopes that other studies continue to look for associations between social media use and psychological distress, especially its impact on LGBTQ youth mental health over time. Further research is needed to help practitioners make informed recommendations to distressed LGBTQ youth and their parents as to whether the youth may benefit from simply unplugging from social media or from unplugging in the context of LGBTQ-affirming programming.
Pedersen, T. (2020). Trading Social Media for In-Person Interaction May Reduce Depressive Symptoms in LGBT Youth. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/07/31/trading-social-media-for-in-person-interaction-may-reduce-depressive-symptoms-in-lgbt-youth/158355.html