Passive and Active Social Media Use and Depressive Symptoms Among United States Adults


César G. Escobar-Viera
Ariel Shensa
Nicholas D. Bowman
Jaime E. Sidani
Jennifer Knight
Everette James
Brian A. Primack


Social media allows users to explore self-identity and express emotions or thoughts. Research looking into the association between social media use (SMU) and mental health outcomes, such as anxiety or depressive symptoms, have produced mixed findings. These contradictions may best be addressed by examining different patterns of SMU as they relate to depressive symptomatology. We sought to assess the independent associations between active versus passive SMU and depressive symptoms. For this, we conducted an online survey of adults 18–49 of age. Depressive symptoms were measured using the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System brief depression scale. We measured active and passive SMU with previously developed items. Factor analysis was used to explore the underlying factor structure. Then, we used ordered logistic regression to assess associations between both passive and active SMU and depressive symptoms while controlling for sociodemographic covariates. Complete data were received from 702 participants. Active and passive SMU items loaded on separate factors. In multivariable analyses that controlled for all covariates, each one-point increase in passive SMU was associated with a 33 percent increase in depressive symptoms (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.33, 95 percent confidence interval [CI] = 1.17–1.51). However, in the same multivariable model, each one-point increase in active SMU was associated with a 15 percent decrease in depressive symptoms (AOR = 0.85, 95 percent CI = 0.75–0.96). To inform interventions, future research should determine directionality of these associations and investigate related factors.