Have you ever looked at your Facebook feed and felt inadequate, lonely and left out? If you have, you are far from alone. People who check their social media accounts regularly have been found to be nearly three times more likely to suffer from depression in a study by the University of Pittsburgh.
Social media is very much a 21st century phenomenon; with over 1.5 billion Facebook users across the world, nearly 1 billion twitter users, half a billion Instagram users and the likes of snapchat hot on their heels, it doesn’t seem that the rise of social media is going to stop any time soon. But could social media be killing us?
‘Facebook Depresses Me and I Feel Like a Failure’
Social media has been hailed by many as an incredible invention, allowing friends and family to more easily keep in touch, even over vast distances, and it is impossible to argue that the platforms don’t allow that. But when ‘writing a status’ or posting a meme replaces real conversation, the result is rarely improved relationships. Where, in the past, we might have felt the need to call or at least email someone to connect with them – to maintain a relationship – we are now able to hit ‘like’ and feel we have done our part to engage.
Not only that, but in a world where ‘image is everything’, it seems more and more that Facebook and Instagram are used by many as a ‘showcase’ of perfectly posed and edited selfies and carefully curated life moments designed to make their existence seem as exciting and amazing as possible. Even those who don’t design their feeds to present a particular ‘image’ naturally share the ‘good parts’ of their lives – events with friends and family, births and marriages, travel and trips. It is far too easy to compare our reality with someone else’s highlight reel and end up feeling inadequate, boring and alone.
When it seems like everyone else is having fun, has dozens of friends and has their life “together” it is hardly surprising that we look at our own life and feel it is lacking – or that we are lacking.
A common theme on our forums and in our chat room is that people feel like a failure compared to their friends and family – that ‘everyone else’ is happy and normal and doing all kinds of exciting things that they are not. This can lead to depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts.
Are Social Media Friends Really Friends?
The American Association of Paediatrics issued a report in 2011 with one of the first mentions of the phenomenon ‘Facebook Depression. Our young people have grown up in a world where it is commonplace to have hundreds, if not thousands, of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ and popularity is no longer measured by who wants to sit with you at lunch.
With friendship being measured by numbers and approval coming in the form of likes or retweets, it is easy to see how social media can become damaging and even dangerous, especially for people suffering from depression.
When you feel like you can’t turn to any of your hundreds of friends for support, help or advice it can feel like the whole world literally does not care about you. The line between ‘someone you know’ and real friends has become so blurred for teenagers and even young adults in their 20s due to social media, that having a core of three or four friends in ‘real life’ who will listen, support and give practical help is considered by many a social failure.
Add to this the fact that reaching out to people on social media for help or advice can often lead to virtual strangers, masquerading on your feed as ‘friends’ ignoring you or, worse, going out of their way to pull you down or call you out for ‘drama’, and the world can feel like a very lonely, isolating place.
Social media depression is a vicious cycle – people whose depression is related to or worsened by social media reach out for support via those channels and are all too often met with a lack of understanding and even cruelty. For people who are vulnerable and already having suicidal thoughts, social media could, quite literally, kill them.
Social Media Depression – Some Tips
- Limit the time you spend on social media and how many times a day you check it. Be strict with yourself and limit yourself to twice a day at the most and only for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time.
- Seek out support with close friends you see in real life or with communities geared toward listening and supporting instead of reaching out on Facebook or twitter to people who barely know you and might hurt you.
- Grab a sheet of paper and define for yourself what you consider a ‘Friend’ to be. Be realistic about the differences between your friends and your social media acquaintances. It can be helpful to start thinking of and referring to them as acquaintances to get this in perspective.
- Fill your time with ‘real world’ activities – working, volunteering and joining clubs and groups can get you away from the computer or phone and thinking about the things you are doing rather than the things other people are doing. Remember that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’.
- Talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself. Depression is a real illness and it is nothing to feel ashamed of. There is help available and you deserve to feel better.
Remember that you are not alone. The horrible feelings you have are not unusual and they probably happen to even the people you think seem so happy and successful from their Facebook feed. If you need extra support or someone to talk to, join our community to use our chat rooms and forums.