New Research Suggests Social Media May Be Effective Form of ‘Self-Medication’

Most people assume social media negatively affects a person's mental health. A new study paints a more complicated picture.


As smartphones and screens take over our daily lives, the narrative that social media ⏤ and society’s collective obsession with it ⏤ destroys our collective mental health has taken hold. New research, however, suggests that we may be placing unnecessary blame on the technology. The relationship between social media and mental health may be more complicated than previously realized.

While scrolling through your newsfeed is unlikely to provide you with the emotional and spiritual fulfillment you’re searching for, says Dr. Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh, social media has become a useful tool for people struggling with depression or anxiety to find connection and escape the loneliness they are feeling.

“People who feel socially isolated may be reaching out on social media, on some level, to self-medicate,” Dr. Primack told NPR in an interview. And social media might help them feel more connected to the world. When someone is looking at Facebook or Instagram, he said, they know that “these are real people, so you feel like this is very much real life. You know it’s not a Jose Cuervo ad, where the people are getting paid to put on smiles. These are people that you actually know.”

And that may not be the only positives associated with social media use. A study earlier this year by the National Institutes of Health observed 9- and 10-year-olds and found that kids who preferred social media to more general media, like TV or video games, were more likely to engage in physical activity and less likely to have major family conflicts.

None of this is to say that social media doesn’t come with its fair share of problems, especially for young kids. But it does show that our relationship with the still-evolving technology may be more nuanced than we previously thought.