Mental Health and the Effects of Social Media
Studies show that the way we use social media can determine its effects on mood.
Posted Mar 05, 2017
Is Facebook making you depressed? If so, you’re not alone. According to a recent study by UK disability charity Scope, of 1500 Facebook and Twitter users surveyed, 62 percent reported feeling inadequate and 60 percent reported feelings of jealousy from comparing themselves to other users.
I’ve heard similar complaints from friends and I’ve felt it myself on a bad day. Most frequently, I hear such statements from those who are struggling with depression. It makes sense that if you are already in a low mood or not feeling good about yourself, having pictures of happy couples and smiling babies pop up on your screen on a consistent basis may make you feel worse. The same is true if you tend to generally have a negative outlook on life.
If Facebook posts depress you, the solution is simple. Here are four things you can do today to help you cope:
- Deactivate your Facebook account (you can always reactivate it later)
- Unfollow your most (seemingly) happy and successful friends
- Remember that Facebook isn’t a representation of reality
- Turn off the computer and go make your own annoyingly happy moments
Should you really take the four actions above?
In a 2015 study on the effects of Facebook use on mental health, researchers at the University of Missouri discovered that regular use could lead to symptoms of depression if the site triggered feelings of envy in the user.
“If it is used as a way to size up one's own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect,” said Professor Margaret Duffy, one of the professors who co-authored the research. She explains that if it’s used “to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship - things that cause envy among users - use of the site can lead to feelings of depression.”
However, those who use the site primarily to feel connected do not experience the negative effects. In fact, when not triggering feelings of envy, the study shows, Facebook could be a good resource and have positive effects on well-being.
Further studies have shown that the majority of social media users tend to edit and post only their most attractive pictures, or ‘put a rose-tinted gloss over their lives’ in an effort to idealize themselves and, researchers believe, to improve others’ impressions of them.
To avoid Facebook-induced depression, users should be aware of the risks of using the site as a tool of comparison. Furthermore, users should be aware that most people are presenting a biased, positive version of reality on social media. Finally, if you’re still feeling down, angry, or generally disillusioned because of the positive news shared by your Facebook friends, on or offline, you should question why you feel that way.
Barring clinical depression or a recent life setback, is it really such a bad thing to see another human being enjoying life, especially if it’s a friend- or at least someone you tolerate enough to accept as a Facebook friend?
With all of the suffering and pain in the world, wouldn’t it be a tragedy if people stopped sharing joyful events for fear of making someone else jealous? Imagine if people only discussed all of the negative things that surrounded them. Especially over this past year, don’t we have enough tragic posts appearing in our newsfeeds 24/7?
Given that there will always be someone who’s taller, richer, better-looking, who has more friends, a better job, etc., we can either allow ourselves to fall into the dangerous trap of comparison, or we can choose to remember that regardless of what others around you appear to have, everyone is grappling with their own struggles. For every promotion, book deal and Tony nomination, chances are, the recipient has experienced equally or more significant life setbacks.
Also important to remember is that for every person that seems to have more, there is another with less. For each individual whose qualities you covet, there’s someone out there who wishes they had what you have. If we can’t change our outer circumstances, at least we can try to change our perspective and learn to be grateful for what we have. We can also learn to celebrate other’s successes. Sharing in other people’s joy can often lift our spirits.
"Be aware of what others are doing, applaud their efforts, acknowledge their successes, and encourage them in their pursuits. When we all help one another, everybody wins" - Jim Stovall
These suggestions may be difficult, especially if you’re struggling with low self-worth or depression. If that is the case, seek help from a friend or a professional. Whether it’s reaching out for support, practicing gratitude or simply surrounding yourself with more of the positive, you owe it to yourself to make the best out of this life.
Stop torturing yourself by comparing your life with everyone else’s positively biased representations of theirs. Seek to improve your own life in a realistic manner. Choose to look at the positives and to celebrate your wins… as well as theirs.