This may sound like a joke, but it’s not: researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have found that too much Facebook usage can leave you more prone to anxiety and depression…that is, if you’re a teenage girl. In a study, a group of 13-year old girls were evaluated by psychology professor Dr. Joanne Davila and her colleague, Lisa Starr. A year later, the researchers followed up with the girls, testing them for depressive symptoms.

Feeling Down? Blame Facebook!

The results of their tests, recently published in The Journal of Adolescence, showed that the girls who excessively talked with their friends about their issues had significantly higher levels of depression. Today’s online tools provide even more ways for this to occur. Says Dr. Davila, “Texting, instant messaging and social networking make it very easy for adolescents to become even more anxious, which can lead to depression.”

The problem with these electronic tools du jour is that they allowed the girls to discuss the same problems over and over again. This caused them to get stuck obsessing over a particular emotional setback, unable to move forward.

A Couple of Caveats

Turning a critical eye to this research, though, we have to wonder: is it really Facebook and IM that’s getting the girls down? Or is it just the nature of teenage girls to talk themselves to tears? We already know that teenage girls engage in excessive talking and rumination…and they’ve been doing so for years. It’s just the means by which they communicate these days that has changed.

Years ago, those same girls may have spent hours on the phone or writing out their thoughts in secret “slambooks.” Even longer ago, they probably sat at their desks writing out long, emotional letters. For many girls, chatting about or dwelling on their problems is just a part of growing up.

It’s not necessarily the medium through which the chatter tasks place that’s the issue – it’s the amount of discussion that leads to the feelings of depression. Said Dr. Davila, “[The girls] often don’t realize that excessive talking is actually making them feel worse.”

It’s also worth pointing out that the study involved a relatively small sample of girls: 83 in total, which doesn’t seem like a large enough group to form any definitive, universal conclusions.

What we can conclude here is that social networking sites haven’t changed anything about how we communicate – they’ve just given us a different platform through which we do so. And our interactions with other online can mirror those we have off.

Update: Please note one of the study’s authors has contributed to the discussion to clarify the details of their research. Although the article we linked to examined the study’s findings in the context of Facebook, the actual study did not examine Facebook, she says. However, the DailyMail article is quoting the lead researcher Dr. Davila as saying “Texting, instant messaging and social networking make it very easy for adolescents to become even more anxious, which can lead to depression. Teenage friends have always chatted about their problems, asking each other why a boy didn’t call or if they should break up with a boyfriend. But frequently discussing the same problem can intensify into an unhealthy activity for those who use Facebook and other electronic means to obsess about it.” While the actual paper may not have focused on Facebook, it’s clear that the researcher is thinking about how this sort of co-rumination occurs using today’s electronic means. The headline “Facebook Depression” is meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek and it should not be taken literally to mean that using Facebook causes depression.

Image Credit: Dawn Ashley