Teens with 300+ Facebook Friends Face Stress and Later-in-life Depression

Posted 12/23/2015 | By HealthCorps

There’s a lot of chatter about the positive and negative elements of social media and specifically Facebook. On one hand it’s an online environment where you can share happy occasions, travel moments, show support and raise awareness for a cause. Facebook is also a place where people can express a range of negative emotions and post downright vile comments. Bullying can also happen on Facebook.

Researchers in Montreal have found that teens with more than 300 Facebook friends experience increased levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress levels, compared to teens with fewer online friends. On the other hand they found that teens who act in ways that support their friends decreased their levels of cortisol.

The study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, examined 88 teen participants, ages 12-17, and asked them about the frequency of their use of Facebook, the number of friends on Facebook, how they interacted with the site and promoted themselves, and the supporting behavior they showed their friends. The researchers also collected cortisol samples from the teens four times a day for three days.

The researchers acknowledge that not all of the cortisol fluctuations they observed are solely due to Facebook behavior, since teens engage in a variety of behaviors during any given day, and they are exposed to a variety of situations that can impact cortisol levels. So the researchers estimated that about 8% of the cortisol level findings were attributable to Facebook behaviors and parameters.

Based on that formula, teens with more than 300 friends clearly had higher levels of cortisol. So researchers theorize that having 1,000 or more friends would raise cortisol levels significantly. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol are associated with an elevated risk of stress and a greater likelihood of developing certain conditions like depression.

Teens with significantly high numbers of Facebook friends face higher levels of stress and later-in-life depression

In fact, some studies have shown that having an elevated cortisol level in the morning, for 13 years, increased the risk of developing depression at the 16th year, by 37%. None of the teens had diagnosed depression at the time of the study, but the lead researcher could not assume that they were free from the risk. Teens with chronically high levels of cortisol might not develop depression right away, but the risk later on in life is heightened. Other studies in children have shown that it could take as much as 11 years for depression to develop in kids with chronically heightened levels of cortisol.

This is one of the first studies with identifiable results, in the emerging field of cyberpsychology. More studies are needed to see the impact of virtual stress on small children, adults and other age and gender groups.

Medical News Today
• Facebook behaviors associated with diurnal cortisol in adolescents: Is befriending stressful? Psychoneuroendocrinology DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.10.005.

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