There is a growing body of research on the correlations between social media use and mental health, and most of that research suggests the relationship between the two is not good. Recently, a trio of Indonesian researchers published a study looking specifically at social media’s impact on the mental health of Indonesian adults, and their paper concludes that increased use of social media can significantly increase their risk of depression.
The study, titled “A Tool to Help or Harm? Online Social Media Use and Adult Mental Health in Indonesia”, was published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction in March. It is credited to authors Sujarwoto Sujarwoto, Gindo Tampubolon and Adi Cilik Pierewanhas.
According to the paper’s abstract, the study examines the effects of social media (Facebook, Twitter and chat) on adult mental health in Indonesia using data from the 2014 Indonesia Family Life Survey (IFLS), which polled 22,423 individuals age 20 years and older in 9987 households and 297 districts in Indonesia.
The study finds that social media use does indeed harms adult mental health. In the abstract it notes, “… an increase of one standard deviation in adult use of social media is associated with 9% increase in CES-D score. The effect is robust with respect to an extensive set of individual, household, community and district covariates.” CES-D score refers to the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale.
According to a press release from the University of Manchester, which facilitated the study, the researchers found that Indonesia’s “high levels of inequality were highlighted by social media, leading to envy and resentment at seeing happy, positive social media images of how others live.”
Despite Indonesia’s steady economic growth since the Asian Economic Crisis of 1998, the country has also experienced rising levels of inequality, with most of the last two decades’ of economic growth benefitting the richest 20% of Indonesians.
The study also notes that social media in Indonesia tends to amplify negative news stories about government failures and corruption, crime, and social conflicts, which can lead to the formation of negative worldviews among users.
With around 54 million users on Facebook and 22 million on Twitter, Indonesians make up one of the largest segments of social media users by country.
Mental illness is a huge problem in Indonesia due to a severe lack of mental healthcare professionals and facilities, as well as strong cultural taboos and shame surrounding the subject. The latest Indonesia Basic Health Research survey from 2018 estimates the number of individuals with mental disorders in the country to be around 11.8 million.
One of the study’s authors, Gindo Tampubolon, a researcher at the Global Development Institute, said in a statement: “It’s a strong reminder that these technologies can have a downside. We would like to see public health officials think creatively about how we can encourage citizens to take a break from social media or be aware of the negative consequences it can have on mental health.”