Relationships between Depression and Social Media Addiction: History
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Depression is positively correlated with fear of missing out, online fear of missing out, and social media addiction, while being significantly negatively correlated with self-esteem; that depression, self-esteem, fear of missing out, and online fear of missing out explain social media addiction scores; that self-esteem mediates the relationship between depression and social media addiction; and that, among Italians between the ages of 18 and 35, younger women report higher scores on fear of missing out, online fear of missing out, and social media addiction.

  • depression
  • fear of missing out
  • social media addiction

1. Introduction

Social media has become increasingly popular in recent decades, revolutionizing the way people communicate, work, and entertain themselves. In fact, their use has grown exponentially in recent years. According to the Global Statshot Report 2023 [1], there were an estimated 4.76 billion active social media users worldwide, and in Italy in particular, there were an estimated 43.90 million active social media users. Furthermore, smartphones have also become the main tool for using social media, including, to name but a few, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. The Global Statshot Report 2023 [1] also indicates that there were an estimated 5.44 billion smartphone users worldwide, and in Italy, there were an estimated 78.19 million smartphone users. The presence and use of smartphones has pushed communication to previously unimaginable limits; in addition to calls, users can send text messages, emails, and voice messages, as well as make video calls, all at extreme distances.
However, social media has become an important source of information, entertainment, and social connection. The tremendous amount of content available, and the constant presence of an internet connection, can lead users to feel overwhelmed and worried about missing something important. Users can also experience the fear of being separated from their smartphone or not having access to an internet connection. Furthermore, social media users may be constantly exposed to news, events, and activities that they feel compelled to participate in. If they feel that they are not continuously connected, they might miss an important or interesting experience, which can generate anxiety and stress. These feelings are related to constantly experiencing the need, if not the compulsion, to check their social media accounts so as not to miss anything. It is also important to note that social media users can develop an overdependence on the platforms, which is driven by the fear of missing out on something or falling behind their friends and acquaintances, and this can lead to an ongoing obsession with social media as well as a negative impact on mental health, as the previously mentioned constructs highlight.

2. Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)

Concerning the above considerations, research to date has outlined one construct that accounts for the emergence of real forms of contemporary malaise [2]: the fear of missing out (FoMO) [3][4]. The FoMO is a concept that refers to a state of anxiety experienced by those who use social media; it is caused by the perception that one’s acquaintances are experiencing, or are in possession of, something rewarding that one is not [3][5], which creates a feeling of being excluded or left behind [6]. The construct involves the desire to constantly stay in touch with what others are doing. Research has highlighted four main correlated dimensions: (1) social needs, such as the need to belong to a group [3]; (2) the need to seek approval from others, and accompanying low self-esteem [7]; (3) the emotional problems that emerge in situations where there are difficulties in accessing social media [8]; and (4) social media use which prevents individuals from engaging in daily activities [9].
The construct of FoMO thrives in the digital world, especially concerning the use of social networking sites (SNSs), which are seen as privileged channels for maintaining social connections [10] and play a very important role with respect to gratifying social needs [8]. Most notably, these include the need to belong [11] and the need to increase one’s popularity [12]. In this regard, in line with the perspective of self-determination theory (SDT) [13][14], a lack of fulfillment of the aforementioned psychological needs may be related to an increased fear of being missing out on something, which leads to using social networks as a self-regulatory tool to satisfy one’s psychological needs [8].
Although the FoMO construct is not yet fully established, and even though its role in the development of maladaptive use of internet communication applications is not yet understood, empirical research has highlighted how it can serve as a mediator between psychopathological symptoms and the consequences of maladaptive use of SNSs on the smartphones [15]. It may also mediate between motivational deficits and social media engagement [16] and between deficits in emotional needs or problems and social media use [3]. FoMO appears to be a predictor of smartphone addiction [17][18] and emotional distress [5], and international research has also highlighted a significant negative correlation between FoMO and self-esteem [19][20][21]. Furthermore, since FoMO appears to be related to online social media use and addiction [22][23][24][25][26][27], Sette and colleagues [28] recently proposed the concept of online fear of missing out (On-FoMO) which, indeed, was strongly positively correlated with psychopathological symptoms and social media addiction [29][30].

3. Social Media Addiction

Even though the use of modern online technology has repeatedly been associated with positive effects (such as entertainment, social interaction, and the development of cognitive skills, among others), several studies have highlighted relevant concerns about its excessive use [31][32]. In particular, and according to Andreassen and Pallesen [33], the addictive use of online technology is characterized by “being overly concerned about online activities, driven by an uncontrollable motivation to perform the behavior, and devoting so much time and effort to it that it impairs other important life areas” (p. 4054). Although currently not defined as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition Text Revision; DSM-5-TR) [34] or in the International Classification of Diseases (11th Revision; ICD-11) [35], social media addiction could be defined as potentially addictive behavior, with disunity in terminology regarding labels such “excessive use”, “pathological use” or “problematic use”, all concepts referring to social media use disorders.
However, addictive social media behaviors may also be understood through reference to the six criteria proposed by Griffiths in his model [36]: mood modification (i.e., change in emotional states due to engagement in social media use); salience (i.e., cognitive, emotional, and behavioral preoccupations with the social media use); tolerance (i.e., the ever-increasing use of social media); withdrawal symptoms (i.e., experiencing emotional and physical symptoms due to restricted or discontinued use of social media); conflict (i.e., intrapsychic and interpersonal problems arising from social media use); and relapse (i.e., addicts quickly return to excessive social media use after a period of abstinence).
Empirical research has highlighted the relationship between addictive technological behaviors, anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders [32][37][38][39]. Research has also demonstrated the role played by specific demographic characteristics. Indeed, younger individuals, as well as individuals not in relationships, tend to more frequently develop social media addiction [31][32][40]. Finally, several studies have found a significant negative correlation between social media addiction and self-esteem [19][41][42][43], thus indicating that addictive social media use is linked to a negative self-concept, and thereby to lower self-esteem.

4. Depression, Fear of Missing Out and Social Media Addiction

FoMO, ON-FoMO, and addictive social media use have attracted substantial public interest because they are becoming a cornerstone of modern communication, especially among younger people, such as adolescents and young adults. According to international findings [31][32][40][44][45], the results of the present study indicate that, among Italian participants between the ages of 18 and 35, younger women, as well as students, report higher levels of depression, FoMO, ON-FoMO, and SMA. These data are consistent with international literature indicating the higher use of social media communication by “digital natives” who use this channel to develop their social, friendly, and romantic relationships.
Furthermore, according to the above-cited previous studies [44][45][46][47][48], women reported higher levels of depression, FoMO, ON-FoMO, and SMA. As highlighted by van Deursen and colleagues [40], this gender difference may be interpreted by referring not only to women’s specific social media use, such as maintaining social relationships and gossip, but also to women’s higher anxiety in social interactions and degree of social exposure.
However, regarding age and gender differences, due to mixed results which often result from the poor quality of research on social media addiction behaviors (in terms of sampling, study design, measurement, and cut-off score used), it is difficult to draw statistically significant and sufficiently generalizable conclusions [49][50].
In line with previous studies [3][15][16][22][24][26][27][51], the results indicate a strong association between depression, FoMO, ON-FoMO, and SMA and higher social media engagement, in terms of the number of social media platforms frequented, the number of hours spent daily on social media platforms, and the use of social media platforms during academic and/or work time.
the results also indicate that FoMO and ON-FoMO are strongly positively correlated with depression and SMA, thus confirming previous research findings [22][23][25][52][53][54]. These data can be interpreted in light of self-determination theory (SDT) [13][14], according to which psychological needs such as autonomy, competence, and relationship can account for motivations for using social media, especially among adolescents and young adults. According to Li and colleagues [27], the frustration of such needs and stronger motivations for social media use could lead to higher levels of FoMO, ON-FoMO, and SMA.
Moreover, the results are consistent with previous investigations indicating that FoMO, as well as ON-FoMO, and SMA significantly affect individuals’ mental health [15][16][32][37][38][39][47][48][51][55][56]. Indeed, in the sample as well, FoMO, ON-FoMO, and SMA were significantly positively correlated with depression. It is, however, difficult to interpret these data uni-directionally. Indeed, there is evidence from prospective studies on bidirectional relationships, whereby psychopathology can cause SMA, which in turn appears to increase psychopathology. Despite this, FoMO, ON-FoMO, and SMA seem to be revelatory measures associated with negative health outcomes. Indeed, as indicated by previous research findings, users characterized as having higher levels of depression are more likely to use social media to cope with depression and, in turn, they are most likely to engage in excessive social media use [57][58].
Consistent with previous investigations [19][41][42][43][59][60], the results highlighted a significant negative correlation between SMA and self-esteem, which can be explained by referring to the protective role of self-esteem for addictive behaviors, as well as by the higher dependence on others for approval seen in individuals with low self-esteem.
Finally, according to all previous research findings [61][62] which highlight the mediating role of self-esteem between psychopathological symptoms and SMA, the results indicated that self-esteem mediates the relationship between depression and SMA. These results indicate that self-esteem is an important protective factor, which thereby mediates the direct influence of depression on SMA, although it does not eliminate its direct effect. This is consistent with previous studies that have found a negative relationship between self-esteem and SMA [19][41][42][43][60][63]; as self-esteem decreases, the risk of SMA increases.
One specific limitation of the present study is the involvement of a web-based convenience sampling methodology [32]. This form of community-based sampling strategy implies the volunteers’ bias as well as the probable greater social connectedness of participants recruited from social networks. Furthermore, self-selection in online surveys negatively affects representativeness [64]. Moreover, the assessment of all variables of the study by using self-report instruments implies the single-method bias, as well as other limitations related to the self-report methodology. Taken together, these limitations restrict the generalizability of the findings.

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/healthcare11121667


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