Addicted to social media? Initial research results suggest what you can do about it

Addiction to social media is seen as one of the major mental problems of our time. The best way to tackle this is still far from clear, but initial results are already pointing in the direction we should look.

Joost van Egmond

What would you do if you were hanging out on social media for hours every day? It’s a relatively new phenomenon and the honest answer is we don’t know. There is clear evidence that such behavior can cause mental problems, although there are also studies that show that it can actually increase well-being. It just depends on the context and how you interact with others online. Possibly, because exactly how this works is anyone’s guess.

Obviously, there are many people whose use of social media is disrupting their daily lives. It has negative consequences. There are many initiatives to help this group, from talk therapy about the underlying causes, to a digital detox where the smartphone gets out of the house.

But do these interventions work? Researcher Ruth Blackett of University College London put it into practice Journal of Medical Internet Research A summary of what we know about her now. For this so-called meta-study, 23 studies conducted in recent years were analyzed. These were not the strongest of the studies, Blackett notes right away. For example, almost all of them used the students as guinea pigs, so the results will tell us more about this group than about the entire population. But the findings provide clear indications of promising interventions.

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Limiting will not solve your problem

Almost all of the studies in which treatment for social media addiction was used saw a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. Other complaints, such as nervousness or fear of missing out, are also less frequent in many people. Treatment was often in the form of conversations with caregivers, according to established methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy. But virtual self-help, based on such therapies, has also proven helpful. The results of detox interventions are stark. The digital diet, in which the use of social media is limited by limits, has yielded lower results. Often it did not help.

“Reducing the time a user spends on social media alone is unlikely to help,” Blackett says. Healthcare professionals should be aware of this. It can help to think about how and why we use social media.” She also notes that “detoxing” eliminates the potential benefits of using social media. “Especially for young people, it’s your connection to the world. It can be uncomfortable to take that away and it won’t make you feel better.”

According to Blackett, more and better research is sorely needed to be able to say more about what works and what doesn’t work with problematic usage. There’s a lot we don’t know about social media addiction. “With new technology you always see a lot of empirical research quickly,” Blackett says, “but it often takes a while before solid research methods are developed that can really tell you something about cause and effect.”

More research should better define the effectiveness of interventions and also clarify who benefits from which interventions. For example, there are strong indications that the differences between men and women are significant. For example, one study concluded that quitting social media use altogether produced some mental gains for female participants, but not for men.

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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