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
‘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