A recent study specific to BYU-Idaho, conducted in late 2017 by Robert Wright, a faculty member in the Psychology Department, discovered that feelings of loneliness and depressive symptoms increase as social media usage increases.
According to the research paper, the study surveyed 579 students across the BYU-I campus, with the average age of the students being about 22 years old.
In observing how students interacted and also how often they had headphones on, Wright said he became curious about how students’ social media usage affected their mental health.
Wright conducted the study in a “snowball” manner: students in Wright’s class took the survey and then other students took the survey as well. Wright said he found an interesting relationship between social media usage and feelings of loneliness and depressive symptoms with BYU-I students.
“The more you use social media, the more you are lonely,” Wright said. “It seems the majority of the data say that’s the direction, not that lonely people use social media more.”
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) stated that 40 million adults ages 18 and older in the United States suffer from depression every year.
Rhett Mullins, a research assistant in this study and a senior studying psychology said this study only focused on BYU-I students and the effect social media usage has on them.
“Our study doesn’t generalize anywhere else,” Mullins said. “We did this study among BYU-Idaho students, so we can’t say that this is an American thing or even among the BYUs or LDS thing; this is what we found at BYU-Idaho.”
Even though the study was specific to BYU-I, it has received recognition by the Desert News, an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The major motive was curiosity based on observations of walking around campus,” Wright said.
Wright has worked at BYU-I as a teacher for five years. He said over the years he has seen the increase of social media use, and he has noticed the little interaction people have as they walk around campus and how most have their headphones on.
“There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that,” Wright said. “But it got me thinking, ‘Are we sacrificing our mental and social health for these distractions and our desire for constant stimulation, for example, music?’”
Along with these thoughts, Wright said he wanted to learn more about the reliance people have on technology and if that leads to issues with social health and feelings of loneliness.
Over time, a research team gathered the data to complete the study.
The study discovered various habits of behavior that lead to loneliness and depressive symptoms. Wright and Mullins gave their advice for people to avoid falling into lifestyle habits that could lead to loneliness and depressive habits.
“Nobody posts their horrible days,” Mullen said. “Be aware of those that are around you and that what you see isn’t always real. It’s OK not to be OK sometimes.”
Wright said it is good to reach out to others on campus, take off the headphones and listen to the sounds of nature. He said it is important to use social media in moderation.
“You will not be able to accomplish as much if you are always distracted and not focused on the ‘here and now,’” Wright said. “Social media is one of those potential distractions; headphones, another. Plus, you may be sacrificing your own health as we see here with loneliness and depressive symptoms as you lack focus in your daily life.”