The nature of posts in social media, not the time spent, is what potentially harms mental health, new study suggests.

Social media users who often “vaguebook,” or post social media thoughts that are evocative but intentionally vague, are thought to have suicidal thinking.

The study, published in the Psychiatric Quarterly, aimed to look at the behaviour of the users in connection with mental health issues such as social anxiety and loneliness.

In the past, a number of studies have suggested the correlation between heavy social media use and its negative impacts on real life, such as having low-self esteem, tendency to spend more, and hampering the ability to think independently.

The research included 467 young adults who were quizzed on their use of social media, as well as their personal and emotional lives.

Participants answered questions pertaining to how much time they spent using social media, and the role it played in their lives, as well as questions on anxiety, frequency of suicidal thoughts, empathy, and social support networks.

Based on the results of the questionnaire,  researchers found no association between the amount of time spent and signs of psychological distress, but they found one worrying trend: vaguebooking.

“Vaguebooking was slightly predictive of suicidal ideation, suggesting this particular behaviour could be a warning sign for serious issues,” said Chloe Berryman from the University of Central Florida (UCF), one of the researchers.

“It is possible that some forms of social media use [such as vaguebooking] may function as a cry for help among individuals with pre-existing mental health problems,” said co-author Berryman.

“If you use social media to ruminate about how bad your life is, it will be associated with negative feelings, but it can also be used to improve self-confidence,” said study co-author Dr Christopher Ferguson, of Stetson University.

He added that it is about how people use social media, as its existence is neither good, nor bad. He also said that people using social media as a way to connect with others is not a bad thing.

Meanwhile, Filipinos registered worldwide as the users having spent the most time on social media websites, according to a We Are Social and social media management platform Hootsuite.

Filipinos spent an average of four hours and 17 minutes daily using Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, followed by Brazil with three hours and 43 minutes of average usage.

The Japanese, who scored the lowest, use social media on average 40 minutes daily. MIMS