Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Does Facebook Make Us Lonely?

Social media’s contribution to an epidemic of loneliness.

In this month’s Atlantic, Stephen Marche offers a detailed examination of the current state of social life in America. Encompassing where we live to how we live and who we live with while taking a backward glance at history along with a critical eye toward the present, Marche aims to show how American society is breaking down. According to Marche, loneliness is the result of that breakdown.

Marche asks a lot of great questions about Facebook’s role in creating, or at least contributing to, the loneliness epidemic in America.

Pointing out that our “web of connections” has “grown broader but shallower,” Marche notes that we are more isolated than ever before, and also more accessible than ever imagined.

At the same time, “loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy.”

What are some of the thought-provoking questions Marche is asking?

  • Is Facebook part of the separating or part of the congregating; is it a huddling-together for warmth or a shuffling-away in pain?
  • Does the Internet make people lonely, or are lonely people more attracted to the Internet?
  • Is social networking spreading the very isolation it seemed designed to conquer?

Anxiety about how social media is affecting our social skills is a topic I’ve talked about on this blog: how Facebook affects our friendships, if we’re able to be authentic as friends through a virtual medium, and how to use Facebook as a tool to enhance existing, “real” friendships.

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Ultimately, I care about the questions and ideas Marche presents because I see implications for individual and collective well-being. If there is a loneliness epidemic, and if that epidemic is contributing to suicide risk rather than resilience, Facebook’s role in creating that epidemic is worth serious consideration.

If you’d like to read the whole article (which I’d encourage!), you can find it here. What do you think? Has Facebook increased loneliness or isolation? Are other factors at work? What implications do you see for mental health promotion or suicide prevention?

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, M.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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