Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Lessons learned from a pilot project investigating Instagram use and depressive symptoms in female college students

Cara N. Gray, PhD, LRT/CTRS, Jaclyn L. Roth, CTRS, Angie L. Sardina, PhD, LRT/CTRS


Objectives: To examine the relationship between Instagram use and depressive symptoms among young women, 18-24 years old, enrolled in a preprofessional health program, and to explore whether symptoms of depression decrease if Instagram use is replaced with other activities.

Design: Triphasic quantitative/qualitative digital survey.

Setting: Online at a midsized southeastern university.

Participants: Female college students, aged 18-24 years old, enrolled in a preprofessional health Program in the southeastern United States.

Interventions: A 2-week fast from Instagram use, incorporating various self-selected replacement activities.

Main outcome measure(s): Improved mood/affect, quality of sleep, self-esteem/body image.

Results: Inconclusive, ie, drift and low response rates.

Conclusions: Problematic social media use, which includes the use of Instagram, is related to negative impacts on health and wellness. Modifying behavior(s), in regard to use, has/have been shown to positively impact the user. Improvements in research design could yield vital information to support treatment and prevention of health threats from problematic social media use. Recreation therapists serving young women who experience symptoms of depression are urged to be aware of these health threats and identify specific assessments from which data will be used for treatment planning and collaborative decision-making.



depression, digital detox, Instagram, recreation therapy, replacement activities

Full Text:



Lup K, Trub L, Rosenthal L: Instagram instead?: Exploring associations among Instagram use, depressive symptoms, negative social comparison, and strangers followed. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2015; 18(5): 247-252.

Abril PS, Levin A, Del Riego A: Blurred boundaries: Social media privacy and the twenty-first-century employee. Am Bus Law J. 2012; 49: 63-124.

de Vries DA, Möller AM, Wieringa MS, et al.: Social comparison as the thief of joy: Emotional consequences of viewing strangers’ Instagram posts. Media Psychol. 2018; 21(2): 222-245.

Levenson JC, Shensa A, Sidani JE, et al.: The association between social media use and sleep disturbance among young adults. Prev Med. 2016; 85: 36-41.

Primack BA, Shensa A, Sidani JE, et al.: Social media use and perceived social isolation among young adults in the US. Am J Prev Med. 2017; 53(1): 1-8.

Shensa A, Escobar-Viera CG, Sidani JE, et al.: Problematic social media use and depressive symptoms among US young adults: A nationally-representative study. Soc Sci Med. 2017; 182: 150-157.

Kimbrough AM, Guadagno RE, Muscanell NL, et al.: Gender differences in mediated communication: Women connect more than do men. Comput Human Behav. 2013; 29(3): 896-900.

Brown Z, Tiggemann M: Attractive celebrity and peer images on instagram: Effect on women’s mood and body image. Body Image. 2016; 19: 37-43.

Hawi NS, Samaha M: The relations among social media addiction, self-esteem, and life satisfaction in university students. Soc Sci Computer Rev. 2017; 35(5): 576-586.

Hunt MG, Marx R, Lipson C, et al.: No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. J Soc Clin Psychol. 2018; 37(10): 751-768.

Jackson CA, Luchner AF: Self-presentation mediates the relationship between self-criticism and emotional response to instagram feedback. Pers Individ Dif. 2018; 133: 1-6.

Schou Andreassen C, Pallesen S: Social network site addiction—An overview. CPD. 2014; 20(25): 4053-4061.

Kim KH, Lee H, Hong JP, et al.: Poor sleep quality and suicide attempt among adults with internet addiction: A nationwide community sample of Korea. PLoS One. 2017; 12(4): e0174619.

Kroencke K, Spitzer RL, Williams JBW: The PHQ-9: Validity of a brief depression severity measure. J Gen Intern Med. 2001; 16(9): 606-613.

Watson D, Clark LA, Tellegen A: Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988; 54(6): 1063-1070.

Groves RM, Fowler FJ Jr, Couper MP, et al.: Survey Methodology. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009.

Heerwegh D, Loosveldt G: Face-to-face versus web surveying in a high-internet-coverage population: Differences in response quality. Public Opin Q. 2008; 72(5): 836-846.

Patrick ME, Maggs JL, Lefkowitz ES: Daily associations between drinking and sex among college students: A longitudinal measurement burst design. J Res Adolesc. 2015; 25(2): 377-386.

Scott SB, Kim JS, Smyth JM, et al.: Additive effects of forecasted and reported stressors on negative affect. J Gerontol Ser B. 2019; 74(1): 29-37.

Stawski RS, MacDonald SWS, Sliwinski MJ: Measurement burst design. In The Encyclopedia of Adulthood and Aging. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015: 1-5.

Schobel J, Schickler M, Pryss R, et al.: Towards process-driven mobile data collection applications: Requirements, challenges, lessons learned. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies. 2014: 371-382.

Mays D, Cremeens J, Usdan S, et al.: The feasibility of assessing alcohol use among college students using wireless mobile devices: Implications for health education and behavioural research. Health Educ J. 2010; 69(3): 311-320.

Bruening M, van Woerden I, Todd M, et al.: A mobile ecological momentary assessment tool (devilSPARC) for nutrition and physical activity behaviors in college students: A validation study. J Med Internet Res. 2016; 18(7): e209.

Gu LL, Skierkowski D, Florin P, et al.: Twitter & QR codes: An exploratory trial examining the feasibility of social media mechanisms for sample recruitment. Comput Hum Behav. 2016; 60(2016): 86-96.

Patrick ME, Singer E, Boyd CJ, et al.: Incentives for college student participation in web-based substance use surveys. Addict Behav. 2013; 38(3): 1710-1714.

Flory K, Kloos B, Hankin BL, et al.: Clinical research after catastrophic disasters: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. Pro Psychol: Res Practice. 2008; 39(1): 107-112.

Gibbons FX, Buunk BP: Individual differences in social comparison: Development of a scale of social comparison orientation. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1999; 76(1): 129-142.

The social comparison scale: Testing the validity, reliability, and applicability of the Iowa-Netherlands Comparison Orientation Measure (INCOM) on the German population [press release]. SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research. 2011.

Spitzer RL, Kroenke K, Williams JBW: Patient health questionnaire primary care study group. Validation and utility of a self-report version of PRIME-MD: The PHQ primary care study. J Am Med Assoc. 1999; 282(18): 1737-1744.

Beck AT, Ward CH, Mendelson M, et al.: An inventory for measuring depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1961; 4(6): 561-571.

Beck AT, Steer RA, Brown GK: Beck depression inventory- II. Psychol Assess. 1996.

Buysse DJ, Reynolds CF III, Monk TH, et al.: The Pittsburgh sleep quality index: A new instrument for psychiatric practice and research. Psychiatry Res. 1989; 28(2): 193-213.

Buysse DJ, Yu L, Moul DE, et al.: Development and validation of patient-reported outcome measures for sleep disturbance and sleep-related impairments. Sleep. 2010; 33(6): 781-792.



  • There are currently no refbacks.