A study of youth social media usage characteristics, and mental health status


The use of social media has become increasingly enormous for teenagers and young adults. However, it is unclear that whether the online mediated communication in social media may affect human interactions and cause aversive influences to mental health. In the past, some researchers have associated online social networking with mental health problems such as depressive symptoms, anxiety and low self-esteem (e.g. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011). On the other hand, some researchers suggest research results from different studies possess mixed conclusion on the impacts of social media to mental health. For example, Grieve & Watkinson (2016) suggest the authentic self-presentation on social media can help the user to develop positive self-esteem.

The mixed result may be addressed by examining the characteristics of social media experience (e.g active and passive usage), and its relationship with mental health. Most prior research focused on the relations between individual aspects of social media experience (e.g. quantity), and mental health without exploring the social media usage characteristics. To the best of our knowledge,  only one study sought to identify the pattern of social media use characteristics and how this pattern is associated with mental health (Shensa, et al, 2018). However, the range of social media use characteristics pinpointed by this research were neither exhaustive nor representative, and the data were collected in 2014. Our study therefore contributes to the literature by exploring the patterns of social media use with 1) an extensive range of usage characteristics based on in-depth interviews and theoretically informed research, and 2) an examination of the relationship between those patterns of social media usage characteristics and mental health status.

The exploratory study was first conducted through in-depth interviews aiming to uncover the relationship between the characteristics of social media experience and mental health. The targeted participants were adolescent and young adults aged between 19 to 25, as this age group is the heaviest social media users on average and access the internet daily. The preliminary findings suggest that motives (social vs. non-social) for using social media, features of social media, and response (trust vs. non-trust, feeling intimate or distanced) to social media use may be associated with the effects of social media use on the mental health of users.


American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical report—the impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800–804.

Grieve, R., & Watkinson, J. (2016). The Psychological Benefits of Being Authentic on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19(7), 42-425.

Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Dew, M. A., Escobar-Viera, C. G. & Primack, B. A (2018). Social media use and depression and anxiety symptoms: a cluster analysis. Am J Health Behav. 42(2), 116–128.