Facebook Depression – How Dangerous Is Social Media?

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.

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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.

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    • But the study just showed an association between depression and social media use, it was not designed to show cause and effect. In the same way that one legged people are more likely to hop, hopping does not cause people to become one legged!

  • I didn’t realize how much FB was becoming my measuring stick for my own self worth. “Likes” are so important to me in order to feel validated. Selfies of FB friends visiting places I long to see just made me more depressed. Everyone seems to be successful, happy and fulfilled. I took a look at my own posts and realized I was a phoney too.

    • It is really really easy to look at other people’s Facebook and decide we are not as successful or popular etc. I don’t think it is ‘fake’ as much as that it is carefully curated for a particular effect. In that sense, I think its incredibly damaging. I am sorry that it depressed you. I personally think (and its just my personal opinion) that the remedy is probably more “offline” time for everyone. Easier said than done often though.

      • I was once so addicted to fb I literally felt trapped in a box with strangers for hours being bashed and ridiculed and eventually brainwashed by my boyfriend I read so much of his mind and actually began to behave like him and repeat all of his arrogance and anger right back to him. He then ganged up people on me. It was horrible and left me with severe PTSD and the constant fear of being murdered. I have been sick ever since . Fb strangers/bullies plus me being addicted ruined my life forever. I got too much attention from false friends and wasted my life on it BC I was lonely.

  • Facebook and other forms of social media have became down right addictive. Especially the more tailored they become to the individual. Technology has made our lives easier yet more complicated. We are increasingly loosing human contact. Our mental health is suffering.

    In January my husband and I decided to shut down our accounts a day before our anniversary. I’m not going to lie; it was hard at first. I came close to redownloading the app the first week. But I vowed 30 days minimum. Made it to that and extended to 90. Here it is July and I don’t miss it at all. Sure I’ve lost contact with some people but in reality our only contact was online. Is that really a friend? Nah. And out of my entire friends list of people I don’t routinely hangout with only one contacted me via phone with concern of my account being deactivated. One! That only made it easier to say no more to endless hours being wasted on FB ‘friends’ that don’t truly care about you. Spend that time with people that actually want to be in your life making those post worthy memories.

  • This article is FABULOUS! It hits every point, and it makes us feel, I certainly think, that we are not the only ones who have a rough–if not horrible–battle with the triggers on Facebook. As I am writing this from America, both battling political parties have just finished their conventions. The result on facebook is horrendous. Friends are blocking friends after vicious political arguments. No one ever convinces anyone to change their opinions, but the fighting is so much worse that real life, because the fighters are behind a screen. I have never seen so many fanged attacks. I deactivated my page. I have felt a level of peace that is unprecedented since I did so. I left about 240 “friends” with no idea why my page is deactivated, but even to talk about all the people fighting triggers me. The VERY DAY I TURNED OFF FACEBOOK, I FOUND THIS FORUM! Miracle or what?! Now I have the same fun, talking and sharing, helping and being helped, only HERE there is a rule that isn’t on facebook: You can’t be mean to anyone. It is day and night. Best rule EVER. I only mean to underscore your point, Freya. Step back from a site designed to addict you, and you might actually find your own life. GREAT article and, in my opinion, BRILLIANT writing. xo

    • Thank you 🙂 and yes, I think that too many people take advantage of distance to be unkind and mean – and some honestly do those things without even realising they are doing it. I am glad that you are finding SF to be a safe and helpful place!

    • I am thinking I should do the same. Some of the people I have on facebook hurt me by only allowing the friendship on facebook. Thats a form of toxic relationships I believe. It will be hard. So thanks for sharing your experience.

  • This is so very true. I’ve friended a number of former classmates from high school on Facebook that I had lost touch with, and see how they somehow managed to stay in touch for the entire time. In fact, just the other day I left a heartfelt message to a friend on their birthday. I got an honest, decent response. But another mutual acquaintance merely just stated they should get together soon for another BBQ and they responded much more lively to that. You wouldn’t believe how upset that one little thing got me. And it does seem that everybody’s life is so much more normal and fulfilling according to what they want to filter on to the world stage and what they keep hidden. It does make me feel depressed and inadequate very easily. I thought Facebook would help me get back into the world, but it’s isolating me even more. Thanks for the article.

  • I have come to this same conclusion a few times, regarding fb depression. Just this week, I deleted the app again, so as to gain some personal perspective and relief from “comparing”. I remember a time when I didn’t even know what fb was and my “real world” friend’s were in shock I didn’t have a fb profile. Now, I regularly wish to completely remove any fb activity from my life, but just taking a break from it can help me feel more connected to myself.

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