People may be at risk of suffering from depression after continually comparing themselves to others on social media.
Young people, especially, are significantly more likely to be depressed if they worry that people online are better than them.
A study of more than 500 millennials, aged 18 to 38, found their mental health is poorer if they show signs of addiction to social media.
Those who focus on people ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than themselves online, or who get more upset by being tagged in unflattering photographs, are more likely to show symptoms of depression.
The study looked at young adults who used at least one of the social media sites Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. The authors say their results back up the theory that comparing yourself to others on one line is harmful to wellbeing.
Dr Krista Howard, of Texas State University, said: “The key is for individuals to develop an awareness of how they currently use social media and to determine what changes could be made in their social media use to reduce the behaviours associated with psychological distress.
“Some changes could include reducing the time spent on social media, unfollowing individuals or groups that cause distress, or limiting online social comparisons.”
Researchers questioned people on their use of social media, then about their emotions for the study.
They were asked how much, from not at all to nearly every day, they felt down, depressed or hopeless, or took little pleasure in doing activities.
Young people were more likely to show signs of depression like this if they admitting to focusing on ‘people better or worse off’ than them on social media.
The study states: ‘Many individuals who post on social media tend to portray themselves as overly positive by posting mainly positive aspects of their lives, so comparing oneself to an exaggerated online persona of a person deemed better off may result in depressive symptoms or envy.’
People with signs of depression were more likely to show evidence of addiction to social media, such as feeling ‘restless or troubled’ if prevented from using social media. They were also more likely to admit being unhappy about appearing in unflattering pictures online.
The most depressed people more often felt ‘noticed’ when people read their Snapchat story – a social media post which only appears for a short time.
Experts say that comparing themselves to others especially can cause young people who grew up in the digital age to suffer prolonged stress.
But the study, published in the Journal of Applied Biobehavioural Research, stresses that social media is not all bad.
Dr Howard said: “While this study highlights social media behaviours that are associated with major depression, it is important to recognise that social media use can offer many positive benefits, including fostering social support.”