Are your friends and fam­ily’s so­cial me­dia high lives mak­ing you jeal­ous and de­pressed? Time to seek help.

Fu­ture meth­ods of tack­ling de­pres­sion could now in­clude so­cial me­dia tools

Friday - - Contents -

‘I know I’m not alone in get­ting wound up when a friend is half in the con­ver­sa­tion and half with her Face­book friends’

Mil­lions of so­cial me­dia time­lines are full of up­lift­ing im­ages of cute ba­bies and an­i­mal videos, happy-go-lucky fam­ily up­dates and ex­hil­a­rat­ingly pos­i­tive news about peo­ple’s moods and in­ter­ac­tions with friends. All good then. Wrong. Far from leav­ing all the bil­lion-plus users with a warm glow when they come off­line from their vir­tual re­al­ity back into the real world, so­cial me­dia, it seems, is lead­ing to a men­tal health time­bomb leav­ing ad­dicts trapped in an end­less cy­cle of de­pres­sion. Be­cause for some, liv­ing their lives on plat­forms such as Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram leaves them feel­ing in­ad­e­quate as they com­pare their ‘dull’ daily rou­tine with that of ‘friends’ in their on­line com­mu­nity, guilty about the amount of time they are ‘wast­ing’ on­line at the ex­pense of forg­ing real re­la­tion­ships and un­der un­due pres­sure to post amaz­ing up­dates on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to com­pete with oth­ers in their cir­cle.

The more time young adults use so­cial me­dia, the more likely they are to be de­pressed, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh School of Medicine. They say so­cial me­dia sites could be fu­elling ‘In­ter­net addiction’, a pro­posed psy­chi­atric con­di­tion closely as­so­ci­ated with de­pres­sion. The re­search in­volved 1,787 Amer­i­can adults aged be­tween 19 and 32 and quizzed them about their use of the most pop­u­lar so­cial me­dia plat­forms: Face­book, YouTube, Twit­ter, Google Plus, In­sta­gram, Snapchat, Red­dit, Tum­blr, Pin­ter­est, Vine and LinkedIn.

On av­er­age the par­tic­i­pants used so­cial me­dia a to­tal of 61 min­utes per day and vis­ited var­i­ous so­cial me­dia ac­counts 30 times per week. More than a quar­ter of the par­tic­i­pants were clas­si­fied as hav­ing ‘high’ in­di­ca­tors of de­pres­sion. There were sig­nif­i­cant links be­tween so­cial me­dia use and de­pres­sion whether so­cial me­dia use was mea­sured in terms of to­tal time spent or fre­quency of vis­its. For ex­am­ple, com­pared with those who checked least fre­quently, par­tic­i­pants who re­ported most fre­quently check­ing so­cial me­dia through­out the week had 2.7 times the like­li­hood of de­pres­sion.

Sim­i­larly, com­pared to peers who spent less time on so­cial me­dia, par­tic­i­pants who spent the most time on so­cial me­dia in a day had 1.7 times the risk of de­pres­sion.

The find­ings could be used to guide clin­i­cal and pub­lic health in­ter­ven­tions to tackle de­pres­sion, al­ready iden­ti­fied by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion as the lead­ing form of dis­abil­ity across the globe. Fu­ture meth­ods of tack­ling de­pres­sion could now in­clude so­cial me­dia tools.

‘Be­cause so­cial me­dia has be­come such an in­te­grated com­po­nent of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion, it is im­por­tant for clin­i­cians in­ter­act­ing with young adults to recog­nise the bal­ance to be struck in en­cour­ag­ing po­ten­tial pos­i­tive use, while redi­rect­ing from prob­lem­atic use,’ said Brian Pri­mack, di­rec­tor of Pitt’s Cen­ter for Re­search on Me­dia, Tech­nol­ogy and Health. ‘It may be that peo­ple who al­ready are de­pressed are turn­ing to so­cial me­dia to fill a void,’ said lead au­thor Lui yi Lin of the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh. Lui yi said ex­po­sure to so­cial

Re­search has found that EN­GAG­ING in ac­tiv­i­ties of lit­tle mean­ing on so­cial me­dia may give a feel­ing of ‘TIME WASTED’ that neg­a­tively in­flu­ences mood

me­dia also may cause de­pres­sion, which could in turn fuel more use of so­cial me­dia.

She warned ex­po­sure to highly ide­alised rep­re­sen­ta­tions of peers on so­cial me­dia elic­its feel­ings of envy and the dis­torted be­lief that oth­ers lead hap­pier, more suc­cess­ful lives. The re­search also found en­gag­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties of lit­tle mean­ing on so­cial me­dia may give a feel­ing of ‘time

wasted’ that neg­a­tively in­flu­ences mood.

Spend­ing more time on so­cial me­dia may in­crease the risk of ex­po­sure to cy­ber­bul­ly­ing or other sim­i­lar neg­a­tive in­ter­ac­tions, which can cause feel­ings of de­pres­sion, she added.

Lorne Jaffe, 42, a stay-at-home dad from New York who has dealt with de­pres­sion for much of his life, blogs about his bat­tles with the con­di­tion and posts about the neg­a­tive ef­fects so­cial me­dia can have on him.

‘Last week I fell into panic mode,’ he wrote. ‘It started with in­tense chest pains each time I logged on to Face­book to check the groups I be­long to as well as scroll through my main feed. Each visit be­came shorter as the phys­i­cal symp­toms of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion over­whelmed ra­tio­nal thought. By Tues­day I had a full-blown anx­i­ety at­tack and needed my mom to watch Si­enna lest my lit­tle girl see me hys­ter­i­cally cry­ing; scream­ing, “It’s all crash­ing down! It’s all crash­ing down!” while I sat against a wall, head in my hands. What ex­actly was crash­ing down is mean­ing­less in hind­sight be­cause of the ut­ter ab­sur­dity of the thoughts ca­reen­ing through my head: I suck; I’ll never be as good as HIM; I’m a fail­ure. ... I’ve in­vented enor­mous ex­pec­ta­tions for my­self thanks to those placed on me as a kid by fam­ily and school.’

He felt so bad, he con­sid­ered quit­ting Face­book to es­cape the neg­a­tiv­ity that en­gulfed him but rode the storm and de­cided, in­stead, to limit his time on­line and be aware of the phys­i­cal symp­toms be­fore they took hold once again. ‘Just imag­ine – a huge anx­i­ety at­tack fol­lowed by three days in bed feel­ing pa­thetic, in­suf­fi­cient, alien­ated and even sui­ci­dal all be­cause of the thoughts trig­gered by a so­cial me­dia plat­form,’ he wrote. ‘That is de­pres­sion mixed with Face­book.’ He de­scribed de­pres­sion as an ‘iso­lat­ing dis­ease’ and said it is fur­ther com­pounded by star­ing at a screen hop­ing and pray­ing for ‘friends’ to like or com­ment on posts, sink­ing fur­ther into de­spair if no such in­ter­ac­tion is forth­com­ing.

Com­par­ing your own life with that of on­line friends can also trig­ger an at­tack, Lorne said, be­cause ev­ery­one else seems to be so up­beat, pos­i­tive and en­joy­ing amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ences com­pared with your own daily rou­tine.

‘This is the de­pres­sion as­pect that most af­flicts me. I log on to Face­book, see that a friend from el­e­men­tary school’s just bought a new house, look around my small apart­ment and lament that I have so lit­tle fi­nan­cially – this de­spite know­ing I have a beau­ti­ful, lov­ing wife, an in­cred­i­ble daugh­ter, and a great deal of car­ing friends and fam­ily. I chas­tise my­self for not hav­ing the money to pro­vide my fam­ily with a house. I hate my­self for not be­ing able to af­ford the “Amer­i­can Dream”.

But on his brighter days, he ac­knowl­edges, as most of us recog­nise, that Face­book posts never show the full story. Peo­ple tend to share fewer de­tails about mar­i­tal is­sues, debt, abuse or the drudgery of their iron­ing pile than they do about great nights out with friends, happy fam­ily events or shiny new cars. In­creas­ing num­bers of ‘life hacks’ are spring­ing up across other on­line chan­nels ex­plain­ing how quit­ting Face­book can re-en­er­gise us, mo­ti­vate us fur­ther in our own lives, save our en­ergy to deal with in­for­ma­tion and peo­ple that re­ally mat­ter and ac­tu­ally im­prove our com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

‘Like all so­cial me­dia plat­forms, Face­book is a num­bers game,’ ob­served Lorne. ‘How many friends do you have? How many peo­ple com­mented on your post or pic­ture?

‘Pro­fes­sion­ally, I find it chal­leng­ing – the pres­sure to keep post­ing, to be in­ter­est­ing’

How many likes did your video get? If you suf­fer de­pres­sion and re­ceive few com­ments or likes on a pic­ture or post, you’re pre­dis­posed to tak­ing it per­son­ally – they didn’t like it so they don’t like me. Rarely does it en­ter the brain that peo­ple might not have seen it or are too busy to com­ment. And even though I know it’s il­log­i­cal, I have im­mense trou­ble stop­ping my de­pres­sion from en­snar­ing me in its mas­sive grip.’

Jayne Ge­orge, a UAE-based life coach and di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional coach­ing and train­ing at Sup­port Links World­wide, says: ‘It’s in­creas­ingly hard to be your­self. When you post any­thing, you think of the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple on your page and try to ap­peal to them, yet peo­ple have on­line friends and con­nec­tions from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and back­grounds, old school friends, new col­leagues, friends from dis­tinct groups and you have to think care­fully about what you share with whom.

‘It can be hard for peo­ple to stop com­par­ing their ap­par­ently dull, rou­tine lives with those of their on­line friends but a quick re­al­ity check re­minds us that ev­ery­one al­ways posts about the ex­tra­or­di­nary events in their lives rather than the mun­dane every­day things.

‘One in­ad­ver­tently up­set­ting fea­ture of so­cial me­dia, which can leave peo­ple feel­ing de­pressed, is the huge amount of good cause ma­te­rial shared on­line. While post­ing is aimed at rais­ing the pro­file of these im­por­tant is­sues, it can be very dis­tress­ing to read such sen­si­tive ma­te­rial yet we find our­selves drawn to it and plat­forms mon­i­tor the na­ture of ma­te­rial you ac­cess and put more of the same in front of us.

‘Some­times we go on­line for pos­i­tive re­lax­ation and come away feel­ing stressed, an­gry or down – so we just need to be aware of our us­age and emo­tions.’

Users agree they don’t al­ways feel good af­ter us­ing so­cial me­dia. ‘I don’t agree with the way peo­ple air all their dirty laun­dry in pub­lic,’ beau­ti­cian Beth Pod­more says. ‘Peo­ple share too much in­for­ma­tion and should learn to keep more to them­selves and re­alise other peo­ple don’t want or need to know ev­ery lit­tle de­tail of their lives. When I read that kind of up­date, so rather than feel­ing up­lifted by what I read on so­cial me­dia, I come off wound up in a more neg­a­tive mood, which, to me, de­feats the ob­ject in some ways.’

Norma Wilkin­son, a UK-based im­age con­sul­tant, views her on­line ex­pe­ri­ences dif­fer­ently pro­fes­sion­ally from per­son­ally.

‘On a so­cial level I like it as it can keep in touch with friends I don’t get to see of­ten. I like the cre­ative out­let it gives me – it’s a won­der­ful form of es­capism on a dreary day!

‘On a professional level I find it much more chal­leng­ing – the pres­sure to keep post­ing, the pres­sure to be in­ter­est­ing, the pres­sure to be rel­e­vant to my mar­ket and keep them com­ing back for more.

‘I will some­times re­flect on my day/mood when I see a pic­ture that gives the im­pres­sion some­one else is hav­ing a “great” day... but that’s all it is an im­pres­sion it is no way a cer­tain re­al­ity. I do have to check my­self when I am with my chil­dren that my at­ten­tion is not taken from them too of­ten or in a neg­a­tive way due to the fact I am look­ing at a friend’s hol­i­day pic­tures on Face­book!’

Ann Lee thought she would en­joy catch­ing up with old friends when she re­tired and in­stalled Face­book on her mo­bile.

But within a cou­ple of months she had re­moved the app be­cause, de­spite hav­ing plenty of free time af­ter end­ing her teach­ing ca­reer, she chas­tised her­self for ‘wast­ing too much time’ check­ing posts.

‘I en­joy the amus­ing dog videos and learn­ing a lit­tle about how old col­leagues are spend­ing their re­tire­ment,’ she said. ‘But when it side­tracks me and I start read­ing up­dates from a whole host of re­lated or­gan­i­sa­tions and peo­ple I would never choose to in­ter­act with, I de­cided enough was enough.

‘I get cross with my­self for sit­ting scrolling through page af­ter page of posts when there are other things I need to be get­ting on with – then I check back in to see up­dates on some­thing I’ve be­come en­grossed in, which is of­ten quite a neg­a­tive item about a sick child or an­i­mal, for ex­am­ple, and so it spi­rals down­hill. I feel much bet­ter and more in con­trol when I ac­tively look for a par­tic­u­lar item on­line – and cer­tainly when I pick up the phone, email or that old-style habit of call­ing round to see a friend face to face. You can’t beat it! And I know I’m not alone in get­ting wound up when I’m in a group of peo­ple and

Face­book posts never show the FULL story. Peo­ple tend to share fewer de­tails about mar­i­tal is­sues, debt or the DRUDGERY of their iron­ing pile than they do about great nights out with friends or shiny new car

at least one is con­stantly on­line, half in the con­ver­sa­tion and half with her Face­book friends telling them what she’s do­ing. So­cial me­dia can ac­tu­ally be quite anti-so­cial.’

Some so­cial me­dia plat­forms have al­ready im­ple­mented mea­sures aimed at di­rect­ing peo­ple to re­sources to tackle feel­ings of stress and de­pres­sion.

For ex­am­ple, when a per­son searches the blog site Tum­blr for tags in­di­cat­ing ref­er­ences to a men­tal health crisis – such as ‘de­pressed’, or ‘sui­ci­dal’ – they are redi­rected to a mes­sage that be­gins with ‘Ev­ery­thing OK?’ and pro­vided with links to helplines and other rel­e­vant ad­vice.

Face­book has tested a fea­ture that al­lows friends to anony­mously re­port wor­ry­ing posts. The posters would then re­ceive pop-up mes­sages ex­press­ing con­cern, en­cour­ag­ing them to seek help.

So next time you coo over a cute baby or an­i­mal im­age and click to com­ment on yet an­other in­spi­ra­tional up­date, spare a thought for those who might not share your en­thu­si­asm. Stay real!

So­cial me­dia, Lorne Jaffe says, fuels de­pres­sion, as he feels he is less ad­e­quate than his on­line friends

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