Emotional Support from Social Media and Face-to-Face Relationships: Associations with Depression Risk Among Young Adults

BACKGROUND:

Emotional support is highly protective against poor mental health. Though several measures of emotional support exist, none specifically addresses social media (SM) as a source of emotional support. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to determine if SM-based emotional support is an extension of or distinct construct from face-to-face (FTF) emotional support and to assess the independent associations between each domain of emotional support and depression risk among U.S. young adults.

METHODS:

In March 2018, we surveyed 2408 18-30 year olds. We assessed perceived FTF emotional support with the brief PROMIS emotional support scale and perceived SM-based emotional support using a new four-item measure. Depression risk was assessed using the PHQ-9. We performed factor analysis (FA) to determine the underlying factor structure of all items and to develop composite scales. Multivariable logistic regression was used to examine the independent association between each resulting emotional support scale and depression risk.

RESULTS:

FA revealed two distinct constructs. FTF emotional support was associated with 43% lower odds of depression per 1-unit increase on the 5-point scale (AOR = 0.57, 95% CI = 0.52-0.63). However, SM-based emotional support was significantly associated with 20% greater odds of depression per 1-unit increase on the 5-point scale (AOR = 1.20, 95% CI = 1.09-1.32).

LIMITATIONS:

This study utilized a cross-sectional design and self-report data.

CONCLUSIONS:

While FTF emotional support was associated with slightly lower odds of depression, SM-based emotional support was associated with slightly greater odds of depression. It may be valuable for clinicians treating individuals with depression to ask about sources of emotional support.