A study of UW-Madison students found no link between Facebook use and depression, calling into question a warning by a national doctor group last year that the popular social media site could cause depression.
"The findings have important implications for clinicians who may prematurely alarm parents about social media use and depression risks," Lauren Jelenchick, a UW School of Medicine and Public Health researcher who led the study, said in a statement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics last year issued a report on the effects of social media on children and adolescents.
The report discussed "Facebook depression," defining it as "depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression."
Jelenchick and Dr. Megan Moreno surveyed 190 UW-Madison students ages 18 to 23 from February to December 2011, using a real-time assessment of Internet activity and a clinical screening method for depression.
The authors didn't address in the statement how the study of college-age students related to the other report of preteens and teens.
The students were surveyed with 43 text-message questionnaires at random intervals over a seven-day period. The students were asked if they were online, how many minutes they had been online and what they were doing on the Internet.
The participants were on Facebook for more than half of their time online. Jelenchick and Moreno found no significant associations between social-media use and the probability of depression, they reported Monday in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"Our study is the first to present scientific evidence on the suggested link between social-media use and risk of depression," Jelenchick said.
Moreno, a pediatrician, said parents don't have to be overly concerned about social media use if their child's behavior and mood haven't changed, they have friends and their school work is consistent.
A study last year by Moreno found 25 percent of the Facebook pages of 200 college sophomores and juniors displayed one or more references to depression symptoms, such as decreased interest or pleasure in activities, change in appetite and sleep problems.
But many of the students received encouragement from their Facebook friends, "so it may be used as a mini-support group for depression," Moreno said.
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