A major new study in the UK found that staying connected via video, phone and instant messaging was slightly helpful in preventing people from increasing anxiety and depression during pandemic lockdowns.
The research says that many young people who increased their use of video and messaging with friends and family they couldn’t see face to face experienced a decline in their mental health.
Dr Patrick Roxel and Professor Tarani Chandola, from the University of Hong Kong, analyzed data on more than 16,000 people’s internet use, mental health and social isolation from four UK surveys conducted during lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. They found that:
- People who used video or phones daily to keep in touch with family and friends outside their home were only 3% lower on a measure of anxiety and depression than those who never did.
- People who use online messaging services like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp every day during lockdowns are experiencing anxiety and depression to the same degree as those who have never used them.
- 20-year-olds who used social media infrequently before the pandemic were 10% higher on a measure of anxiety and depression if they used it daily during lockdown, compared to peers who used it 2-3 times a week during lockdown.
the researchers wrote in an article published in the journal Sociology.
“We found little evidence to support the idea that patterns of online social contact can compensate for the limitations of in-person social contact during the pandemic.
“The decline in mental health associated with decreased in-person social contact during the pandemic was not offset by patterns of online or telephone social contact.
“Young adults who increased the frequency of their online social media use during the pandemic experienced a decline in mental health. Puberty is a sensitive period of the life course for social relationships, with an increase in the frequency of online social media during a pandemic having negative effects on mental health. .”
The research also found that people whose finances worsened during lockdown had a quarter higher anxiety-depression level than those who did not.
The researchers used data collected by: the Millennium Cohort Study of people born between 2000 and 2002. Next Steps on those born 1989-1990; Study of the British cohort of people born in 1970. The National Study of Child Development of people born in 1958. All of the surveys addressed anxiety and depression.
The survey covered the periods of May 2020, during the first lockdown; September and October 2020, when restrictions have been lifted in many places; and February and March 2021, during the third lockdown.
As the surveys did not start until May 2020, the research does not measure the initial overall increase in anxiety and depression when the first lockdown began in March. However, people’s reaction to subsequent lockdowns, ending the first and second lockdowns can be gauged. Researchers found that, overall, people who had to switch from meeting friends and family outside the home to keeping in touch online experienced up to a 5% increase in their anxiety and depression scores.
The researchers created an anxiety and depression scale by combining responses to questions from a 2-item generalized anxiety disorder and a 2-item patient health questionnaire. The GAD-2 is a screening tool for generalized anxiety disorder with questions about “feeling stressed, restless, or anxious” and “inability to stop or control anxiety” within the past two weeks. The PHQ-2 inquires about the frequency of depressed mood and anhedonia with questions about “little interest or pleasure in doing things” and “feeling down, depressed or hopeless” within the past two weeks.
Responses to both GAD-2 and PHQ-2 ranged from 1 (not at all), 2 (several days), 3 (more than half of the days), and 4 (almost every day). The four items in each wave were averaged on a scale of 1 to 4 with higher values indicating increased anxiety and depression. The researchers also used the Kessler Scale, a quantitative measure of non-specific psychological distress (available only in the MCS cohort). It consists of six questions about symptoms of depression and anxiety experienced by the person in the last 30 days. Responses ranged from 1 (all of the time) to 5 (none at any time). The six items in each wave were averaged on a scale of 1 to 5 with higher values indicating greater psychological distress.
Patrick Ruxell et al., No substitute for in-person interaction: changing patterns of social contact during the coronavirus pandemic and the impacts on the mental health of adults in the United Kingdom, Available here. Sociology (2023). doi: 10.1177/00380385231172123
the quote: Social Media Didn’t Help Prevent Anxiety and Depression During Pandemic, Research Says (2023, May 23), Retrieved May 23, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-social-media-anxiety-depression – pandemic. html
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