Facebook use can lead to depression, according to a new study from the University of Houston in Texas.

Social comparisons to online friends, as well as the time spent on the social media site, can negatively affect mental health, researchers determined. Millions of people enjoy connecting with friends, new and old, on the social network. However, some people can start to feel inadequate and depressed if they start to feel their lives are not as rich or fulfilling as people on their list of friends.

A pair of studies were conducted to measure how mental health is affected by comparisons with online peers, concluding that depressive symptoms increase following such behavior. Each of these studies showed a link between depression and time spent on the social media site among both genders.

A possible link between social comparisons and depressive symptoms has been studied in head-to-head interactions since the 1950s.

"Although social comparison processes have been examined at length in traditional contexts, the literature is only beginning to explore social comparisons in online social networking settings," Mai-Ly Steers of the University of Houston said.

Facebook users are more likely to post good news than bad, making readers believe that their lives are better than they are in reality. This skewed viewpoint could lead users to believe they are not living as happy, healthy, and wealthy lives as their peers, potentially leading to an increase in depressive symptoms, researchers speculate.

"You can't really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post... If we're comparing ourselves to our friends' 'highlight reels,' this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives," Steers said.

People who are already struggling with depression may feel symptoms to a greater degree by reading Facebook, and drawing social comparisons, the studies found. These subjects may be helped along in their mental health challenges by reducing their time on social media sites, researchers suggest. Investigators also hope this study shows how technological advances can have both intended and unintended consequences, including some related to mental health.

Depression is usually divided into two categories, depending on the nature of the condition. Persistent depressive disorder includes psychotic depression, which is accompanied by a break from reality, postpartum depression in new mothers, and seasonal affective disorder, which strikes during winter. The other major category of depression is bipolar disorder, marked by mood changes, from extreme happiness to sadness.

Study of how Facebook can increase feelings of depression was detailed in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

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