How Online Social Engagement Can Influence Anxiety and Depression in Older Adults

Depending on the content and how it is used, social media can bring positive or negative effects to the elderly population.Researchers have discovered an interesting relationship between internet-based social engagement and the prevalence of anxiety and depression in older adults.The study, published in New Media & Society, aimed to investigate how online social engagement may positively or negatively affect anxiety and depression rates among older adults. Researchers surveyed 1,026 adults, 60 or older, regarding their experiences engaging in online socialization. The researchers found that certain social media activities were associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety in older adults. These activities primarily included looking at photos of non-family members, answering questions for others, and checking in on people suddenly absent from an online community.Study Finding ExplainedThe researchers found that different forms of online social engagement affected incidences of anxiety and depression differently. For example, while looking at photos of family members was not related to depression or anxiety, looking at photos of non-family members resulted in higher rates of anxiety.Anxiety was measured using the Beck Anxiety Inventory scale and depression using the Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Sociodemographic information, including gender, race, ethnicity, income, and highest level of education was also collected.Participants were asked whether they regularly performed the following activities on social media:Looking at photos of family members (78 percent reported “yes”)Looking at photos of people they care about who are not family (70 percent reported “yes”)Looking at people’s status updates (60 percent reported “yes”)Clicking on links shared by others (50 percent reported “yes”)Asking a question to others or answering questions for others (33 percent reported “yes”)Checking on a person who was suddenly absent from an online community or group (12 percent reported “yes”)Participants were then asked if they felt these activities contributed to feelings of anxiety or depression. Overall, the researchers found that participants who said they had used social media to check on someone absent from an online community were more likely to experience depression and anxiety. They also found a positive correlation between anxiety and answering questions for others and looking at photos of others online who were not family members.“Rather than glorify online social engagement as good for anxiety and depression, or vilify it as bad for both, this study takes a nuanced stance,” Carl Nassar, a certified psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor, told The Epoch Times in an email.Previous ResearchOther studies indicate that anxiety and depression have become increasingly common in the older population. Some research suggests that rates of depression among older adults around the world may be as high as 40 percent and it is estimated that around 14 to 17 percent of older adults have an anxiety disorder.Prior research has consistently shown a positive link between social connection and decreased risk of anxiety and depression. However, it appears that using the internet as a primary form of social connection (as opposed to face-to-face socialization) muddies the water a bit. For example, while some studies have found a link between the use of social networking sites and depression, other studies have found no such link. These varied results could be due to many factors, including different purposes of use (i.e., active engagement versus passive engagement) and the older person’s comfort level with using technology.Other past research focusing on social media use and anxiety suggests that rates of anxiety are lower among people who use it as a way to meaningfully connect with others and to seek out humor.Mr. Nassar believes that there is no clear-cut answer to the question, “Is online social engagement good for you?” explaining: “If you use online social engagement as a replacement for in-person relational contact, then you’re likely in trouble. If you use online social media as a way to stay connected with people you have come to care about, people you know in real life, or people you have come to know online, then it can prove helpful. So, the authors of this study explain that context matters, and that whether it’s good or bad depends on context.”Risk Factors in Older AdultsSocial isolation and loneliness are key risk factors for poor mental health in older people. These particular risk factors could potentially be mitigated through the use of online social media platforms.Related Stories“We know that we, as humans, are meant for each other. We feel better when we see and hear words of affirmation from people around us. We feel worse when there’s no one around us to affirm our worth. As such, isolation is strongly correlated with both depression and anxiety,” confirms Mr. Nassar.Of course, o

How Online Social Engagement Can Influence Anxiety and Depression in Older Adults

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Depending on the content and how it is used, social media can bring positive or negative effects to the elderly population.

Researchers have discovered an interesting relationship between internet-based social engagement and the prevalence of anxiety and depression in older adults.

The study, published in New Media & Society, aimed to investigate how online social engagement may positively or negatively affect anxiety and depression rates among older adults. Researchers surveyed 1,026 adults, 60 or older, regarding their experiences engaging in online socialization. The researchers found that certain social media activities were associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety in older adults. These activities primarily included looking at photos of non-family members, answering questions for others, and checking in on people suddenly absent from an online community.
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Study Finding Explained

The researchers found that different forms of online social engagement affected incidences of anxiety and depression differently. For example, while looking at photos of family members was not related to depression or anxiety, looking at photos of non-family members resulted in higher rates of anxiety.

Anxiety was measured using the Beck Anxiety Inventory scale and depression using the Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Sociodemographic information, including gender, race, ethnicity, income, and highest level of education was also collected.

Participants were asked whether they regularly performed the following activities on social media:
  • Looking at photos of family members (78 percent reported “yes”)
  • Looking at photos of people they care about who are not family (70 percent reported “yes”)
  • Looking at people’s status updates (60 percent reported “yes”)
  • Clicking on links shared by others (50 percent reported “yes”)
  • Asking a question to others or answering questions for others (33 percent reported “yes”)
  • Checking on a person who was suddenly absent from an online community or group (12 percent reported “yes”)
Participants were then asked if they felt these activities contributed to feelings of anxiety or depression. Overall, the researchers found that participants who said they had used social media to check on someone absent from an online community were more likely to experience depression and anxiety. They also found a positive correlation between anxiety and answering questions for others and looking at photos of others online who were not family members.
“Rather than glorify online social engagement as good for anxiety and depression, or vilify it as bad for both, this study takes a nuanced stance,” Carl Nassar, a certified psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor, told The Epoch Times in an email.
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Previous Research

Other studies indicate that anxiety and depression have become increasingly common in the older population. Some research suggests that rates of depression among older adults around the world may be as high as 40 percent and it is estimated that around 14 to 17 percent of older adults have an anxiety disorder.

Prior research has consistently shown a positive link between social connection and decreased risk of anxiety and depression. However, it appears that using the internet as a primary form of social connection (as opposed to face-to-face socialization) muddies the water a bit. For example, while some studies have found a link between the use of social networking sites and depression, other studies have found no such link. These varied results could be due to many factors, including different purposes of use (i.e., active engagement versus passive engagement) and the older person’s comfort level with using technology.

Other past research focusing on social media use and anxiety suggests that rates of anxiety are lower among people who use it as a way to meaningfully connect with others and to seek out humor.

Mr. Nassar believes that there is no clear-cut answer to the question, “Is online social engagement good for you?” explaining:

“If you use online social engagement as a replacement for in-person relational contact, then you’re likely in trouble. If you use online social media as a way to stay connected with people you have come to care about, people you know in real life, or people you have come to know online, then it can prove helpful. So, the authors of this study explain that context matters, and that whether it’s good or bad depends on context.”

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Risk Factors in Older Adults

Social isolation and loneliness are key risk factors for poor mental health in older people. These particular risk factors could potentially be mitigated through the use of online social media platforms.

“We know that we, as humans, are meant for each other. We feel better when we see and hear words of affirmation from people around us. We feel worse when there’s no one around us to affirm our worth. As such, isolation is strongly correlated with both depression and anxiety,” confirms Mr. Nassar.

Of course, other risk factors for anxiety and depression go beyond isolation and loneliness, including chronic disease, poor mobility, hearing/vision loss, and dealing with the loss of family or friends. While online engagement may not be the solution for every problem, Mr. Nassar says it has the potential to reap many benefits for older adults—when used correctly.
“As you age, your social network shrinks. It typically starts with the loss of work colleagues, then expands to include the loss of friends who move away to warmer climates and retirement homes,” Mr. Nassar explains. “There becomes a growing importance on close contact with your remaining friends, as well as on finding new community circles. If you use online social engagement wisely, to build new connections and strengthen existing ones, you’re well on your way to making the most of it. But if you get lost on social media and scrolling turns into shorter walks around the neighborhood with your dog, it’s likely working against you.”
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Using Online Socialization for Good

Previous research states that social media has the power to support the mental and emotional health of older adults by keeping them connected to family and friends.
The generalized use of the Internet has also been linked to lower rates of depression and loneliness, better social support, improved life satisfaction, and a greater sense of purpose.
According to Mr. Nassar, the power of online socialization for older people cannot be overstated, but it doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. It can be as simple as using the internet to find opportunities for real-life social interactions and chatting with people you meet along the way:

“That’s where online social engagement comes in. Use it to find the course offerings at your local senior center, and then stay in touch with the people you met in your yoga class online. If you do this, you’re going a long way to putting protective factors in place to ward off both depression and anxiety.”

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