Association between social network sites use and mental illness: A meta-analysis



The existing literature shows mixed results of how the use of social networking sites (SNSs) is related to mental health. Some studies provided evidence that SNS users are more mentally healthy because of the exchanged social support, while others argued that users tend to engage in upward social comparison, which would result in mental illness. To shed light on this relationship, we conducted a meta-analytic review to examine a) the association between SNS use and mental illness and b) the factors that moderate the association. A total of 1,451 studies were retrieved from six databases (i.e., Communication & Mass Media Complete, PsycINFO, Academic Search Complete, Web of Science, PubMed, and Medline), among which 37 empirical studies (N = 84,955) were eligible for meta-analysis based on the inclusion criteria (i.e., empirical and quantitative studies with human subjects, including sufficient statistical information for effect size computation, concerned with SNS use and mental illness). Results showed that SNS use is associated with not only the likelihood of experiencing overall mental illness (r = .11) but also specific illness, including depression (r = .10), suicidal ideation (r = .22), schizophrenia/mania (r = .09), and ADHD/hyperactivity (r = .27). In addition, the intensity of SNS use, continuous measurement (vs. categorical), and participants’ health condition were found as positive moderators, whereas adopting social support as the theoretical framework and the proportion of African American participants as negative moderators of the association between SNS use and mental illness. Implications of the current study were discussed.

meta-analysis, social networking sites, serious mental illness, social support, social comparison
Author biographies

Qinghua Yang

Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, USA

Qinghua Yang (Ph.D., University of Miami) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the Texas Christian University. Her research focuses on health communication and new media and technology. Her recent work in these areas has been published in Communication Monographs, Journal of Communication, Journal of Medical Internet Research mhealth & uhealth, Journal of Health Communication, and Health Communication. This is the corresponding author for the article (

Jiangmeng Liu

Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, USA; Seattle University, Seattle, USA

Jiangmeng (Helen) Liu (Ph.D., University of Miami) is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Communication at Seattle University. Her research centers on strategic communication in the context of new media as well as social media's effect on mental health. Her papers have been published in journals including Human Communication Research, Internet Research, Computers in Human Behavior, Public Relations Review, Journal of Advertising, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly.

Jian Rui

Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, USA; South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, China

Jian Raymond Rui (Ph.D., University at Buffalo, the State University of New York) is a professor at Department of New Media and Communication, South China University of Technology. Integrating new technology and interpersonal communication, Dr. Rui's research has been published in Computers in Human Behavior, Information, Communication, and Society, Mass Communication and Society, among others.


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Additional information

First submission received:
July 19, 2020

Revisions received:
June 11, 2021
November 7, 2021
January 6, 2022

Accepted for publication:
January 7, 2022

Editor in charge:
David Smahel







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