Study: Therapy more effective in coping with social media ills than cutting back


Study: Therapy more effective in coping with social media ills than cutting back

A new study out Friday found that people whose mental health is negatively impacted by their use of social media benefit more from interventions such as cognitive behavioraltTherapy than simply quitting or cutting back. File Photo courtesy of Pixabay

People suffering from depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness due to an unhealthy relationship with social media can see a significant benefit from interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy over cutting back or quitting, according to a British study published Friday.

The report in the Journal of Medical Internet Research detailed research by University College London and found that of 23 studies carried out all over the world between 2004 and 2022, social media use interventions improved mental well-being in almost two-fifths of people for whom it had become problematic.

Problematic was defined, based on previous research, as when a person’s preoccupation with social media interferes with their daily life, distracting from their primary tasks and causing them to neglect their real-life responsibilities, inducing depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness.

The government-funded study found the benefits of intervention were particularly notable in countering low mood, with 70% of studies finding a significant improvement in depression following the intervention — with therapy-based interventions proving most effective.

Therapy improved mental well-being in 83% of studies, compared with only 20% of studies finding an improvement from restricting social media use and 25% where subjects quit social media entirely.

“Mental health issues are on the rise, as is the number of people who use social media. Health and care professionals should be aware that reducing time spent on social media is unlikely to benefit mental well-being on its own,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Ruth Plackett of UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health.

“Instead, taking a more therapy-based approach and reflecting on how and why we are interacting with social media and managing those behaviors could help improve mental health.”

An estimated 4.59 billion people globally used at least one form of social media with platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or TikTok, dramatically altering how people communicate, form relationships and view each other.

The study’s authors said that while some studies have found social media can be beneficial to users and provide them with increased social support, other evidence links it to psychological problems — particularly in young people.

“As primary care physicians, we should proactively explore social media use and its effects on mental health in patients who present with anxiety and/or low mood in order to give those patients the opportunity to benefit from treatment, including some of the more effective interventions outlined in our review,” said Dr. Patricia Schartau of UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health, a co-author of the study.

The UCL team says that while the low quality of current experimental research along with selection-bias issues means the study only represents a start, they hope the evidence they have uncovered will help policymakers and clinicians to develop best-practice guidance and recommendations for treating problem social media use.

Accordingly, they stressed that further research with representative samples is needed in order to investigate the candidates who would benefit most from interventions to manage problematic use of social media.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Research School’s Mental Health Program. The NIHR is funded by the Department of Health.


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