Can Social Media Cause Depression?

Depression & Anxiety Knowledge
May 20, 2016

Imagine that you’re sitting at home all alone on a gloomy November evening, doing nothing significant or exciting. Boredom makes you check your social media accounts to find out what is going on in the “real” world. It turns out that an acquaintance from primary school who’s always been plump is showing off her bikini-ready body, that skinny bitch. A friend from college has just become a father, congrats! Somebody is posting images directly from a beach in Thailand, yay! Another friend of yours has just finished a marathon.

All that happened while you were just sitting at home with your tablet, sipping tea and relaxing. You have realized you have nothing worth sharing with the world. A couple of minutes before you actually were enjoying your evening. Now you’re feeling your life really sucks, whereas everybody else is having a great time, making lots of money, and visiting exotic destinations… Sounds familiar?

Before I became a blogger, as an introvert raised in a social-media-free environment, I didn’t feel the urge to use many social media. I only had a Facebook account, where I would share or post interesting articles found on the web, mostly psychology, sociology, politics, and humor. I am writing this today because I have just set up a Tumblr account and got upset because no one wanted to follow me or like my stuff. I am also posting things on Twitter, but my tweets seem to pass completely unnoticed… What am I doing wrong? Nobody likes my tweets, nobody shares my stuff, nobody follows my account.

Humans as social animals have the need to belong to some community. Social media give an illusion of acceptance, recognition of one’s achievements, belonging to a group. The superficiality of human interaction in social media may be truly depressing. To me, it is.

After a day spent between Facebook and Twitter I am just like this sad pug…

 

Can Social Media Cause Depression

 

Can Social Media Cause Depression?

Even though there is no clear answer to this question, overuse of social media certainly does affect people’s moods in a rather negative way. Here is what I find most depressive about social media.

 

1. Procrastination

After a whole day of jumping from one tab to another, you feel tired and guilty at the same time. It’s now what you would call a day well spent. Pretending to be doing something and engaging in meaningless activities to postpone what you actually should be doing instead only increases the sense of guilt and worthlessness. Social media are like drugs. They may give a moment of relief making us forget about the unpleasant things pending, but afterwards, when the unended tasks pile up, life gets even more stressful.

2. Miscommunication

Social media will never be able to substitute normal human interaction because the only sense involved is sight. You don’t have access to other facial expressions, voice pitch, intonation, and so on. How do I know what the person thinks if I have no access to the information that speech and body language convey? How do I know if somebody means what he says? Emoticons will never express the variety of human emotions, so it is very difficult to read one’s intentions between the lines. It’s okay to use social media to stay in touch, but even calling on the phone or Skype is better than just writing on the Facebook chat.

3. Self-esteem

The fact that your new profile photo got only 3 likes may not be enough to wish you were dead if you’re not a teenager anymore, but for those with low self-esteem it may actually ruin a day. Facebook and Instagram are filled with stunningly beautiful girls and handsome men who show off their successful lives. Have you ever seen any of those people upload a more realistic selfie of a girl crying her eyes out? I doubt it. By comparing your miserable existence to the apparently satisfying and exciting lives of your so-called friends you make your self-esteem plummet.

4. Loneliness

Intimacy no longer exists on social media. There is no place for deep conversations, authentic emotions, or more spontaneous thoughts. All you see is fake smiles of purposely crafted personas who share only the good things for others to be envious. Also, upon elaborating and re-editing of our thoughts or “statuses” we lose authenticity as human beings. The possibility to rethink and delete posts prevents us from showing our vulnerable side, which is substantial for bonding and emotional closeness. In real life what was said cannot be “unsaid”.  Allowing someone to see you embarrassed makes you more human. Here is the great Internet paradox: in a world in which communication is easier than ever before, people feel terribly lonely.

 

 

Some Final Thoughts & My Advice

Relation of the social media use to depression and anxiety is not so straightforward. Can social media cause depression? A recent study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh shows that there is a visible relationship, but it isn’t clear whether social media cause depression, or whether depressed people tend to use social media as a kind of a reliever, or a way to avoid direct contact and fill in the void. Or both, which makes it a vicious circle. The scientists found out that young adults who spent more time using social media were more likely to develop depression, or had “higher indicators of depression”.

I think it works both ways. Social media cause depression, but also provide to those suffering from social anxiety a chance to communicate their feelings to the world and find people who think alike.

 

Choose wisely whom to follow. You can always unfollow those who make you feel worse, or at leas make them disappear from your wall. I did that to my annoying Facebook friends, and suddenly Facebook became the most dull place on the web with nothing interesting going on. It doesn’t make me feel bad. Frankly speaking, I very seldom use it because the feed provides little exciting stuff.

Give preference to inspiring things over the depressive ones. It is you who chooses the content you want to see on your wall. Inspiring quotes will make you feel much better than black and white images of self-harm posted by a depressed teenager.

Remember that social media are not reality. Facebook is but a life marketing, and reality is what you have outside your window. Everybody’s life is a sequence of ups and downs, but people share on social media mostly the moments worth remembering. One may still have an interesting social life and not be informing half a world about it.

Value direct contact over virtual contact. It’s natural to be curious about lives of others, but remember that Facebook has nothing to do with reality. It’s a just a cautiously crafted vision of an ideal life. Whenever you can, propose a face-to-face meeting, or talk on the phone, which is still much better than chatting on Facebook.

 

Spread the word!

Each time you refuse to give a “like” or hit the share button a depressed blogger cuts his arm!

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4 Comments

  1. Simon says:

    Hi Marta,
    Pleased to meet you.

    I have to agree with you regarding depression and anxiety using Facebook.

    We decided to turn my niece’s Facebook account off from the bullying she received. It just takes one bad comment and it’s followed by so much negativity that really upset her.

    My wife’s family just argue constantly on Facebook and it’s led to some right fallouts which has led to some members feeling very low and on the verge of depression. It got that bad that my wife closed her account down.
    I use Google+ for my business purposes and I find that great for my line of work but I’m not interested in Facebook for these reasons.

    You are right, you really have to choose who you follow and watch what comments you write as well as take their comments with a pinch of salt.

    Which is your preferred social media account?

    Thanks,
    Simon.

    • Marta says:

      I guess my favorite is Pintrest, because I can collect there loads of inspiring stuff. I am generally not into social media, but how can I otherwise succeed as a blogger?

      Kids are especially prone to Facebook depression because at that age humans completely lack empathy. They don’t yet understand that words are powerful weapons.

  2. Richard says:

    Fabulous article! And I love the metaphor. My daughter and I both have depression, anxiety, ADHD and many others. She loves to climb, so I like your website!

    I think that the best thing that you wrote is, “Choose wisely who to follow.” I completely agree!

    I have only recently gotten on Facebook (etc.) for reasons other than being necessarily social. But they are people that I have known all my life, so why not? It is a slippery slope?

    I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your writing style!

    Richard

    • Marta says:

      Hello Richard, thank you 🙂 As for following, I realized that when I logged into social media, and they were packed with self-harming teenagers bragging about new scars and spreading their pain around. I’m not sure if this is even real, but such images may scare anyone. One manages to get to the surface, and they drag you back to the bottom.

      Facebook is OK when you use it the right way, understanding that most people only show the good things, that their lives are not necessarily what they seem to be.

      Ha, I can see from your gravatar that you’re a sailor too! 🙂 So am I. Apart from climber.

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Before my 27th birthday I was diagnosed major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. After some psychotherapy and medication, I am seeing my depression as a source of positive changes and self growth. I will be sharing with you my research on how to cope with depression, methods to boost your mood and very personal confessions, hoping that it will inspire you to fight depression for good!

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