For better or for worse? A systematic review of the evidence on social media use and depression among lesbian, gay, and bisexual minorities.

Authors:

C├ęsar G. Escobar-Viera
Darren L. Whitfield
Charles B. Wessel
Ariel Shensa
Jaime E Sidani
Andre L. Brown
Cristian J. Chandler
Beth L. Hoffman
Michael P. Marshall
Brian A. Primack

Abstract:

Background: Over 90% of adults in the United States have at least one social media account, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) persons are more socially active on social media than heterosexuals. Rates of depression among LGB persons are between 1.5- and 2-fold higher than those among their heterosexual counterparts. Social media allows users to connect, interact, and express ideas, emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Thus, social media use might represent both a protective and a risk factor for depression among LGB persons. Studying the nature of the relationship between social media use and depression among LGB individuals is a necessary step to inform public health interventions for this population.

Objective: The objective of this systematic review was to synthesize and critique the evidence on social media use and depression among LGB populations.

Methods: We conducted a literature search for quantitative and qualitative studies published between January 2003 and June 2017 using 3 electronic databases. Articles were included if they were peer-reviewed, were in English, assessed social media use either quantitatively or qualitatively, measured depression, and focused on LGB populations. A minimum of two authors independently extracted data from each study using an a priori developed abstraction form. We assessed appropriate reporting of studies using the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology and the Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research for quantitative and qualitative studies, respectively.

Results: We included 11 articles in the review; 9 studies were quantitative and cross-sectional and 2 were qualitative. Appropriate reporting of results varied greatly. Across quantitative studies, we found heterogeneity in how social media use was defined and measured. Cyberbullying was the most studied social media experience and was associated with depression and suicidality. Qualitative studies found that while social media provides a space to disclose minority experiences and share ways to cope and get support, constant surveillance of one’s social media profile can become a stressor, potentially leading to depression. In most studies, sexual minority participants were identified inconsistently.

Conclusions: This review supports the need for research on the role of social media use on depression outcomes among LBG persons. Using social media may be both a protective and a risk factor for depression among LGB individuals. Support gained via social media may buffer the impact of geographic isolation and loneliness. Negative experiences such as cyberbullying and other patterns of use may be associated with depression. Future research would benefit from more consistent definitions of both social media use and study populations. Moreover, use of larger samples and accounting for patterns of use and individuals’ experiences on social media may help better understand the factors that impact LGB mental health disparities.