Does Facebook induce feelings of depression?

5 Jan

I’m still trying to figure out the direction of causality – does social media cause feelings of depression, or do we actively go on social media when we’re feeling low as a means to justify wallowing in self-pity?

Social media became a big thing when I was around fourteen.  At first, it was MySpace which seemed full of girls with big, punk hair and kohl-rimmed eyes – a way of attracting boys, upping your social status and generally appearing ‘cool.’  Before anyone uploaded a photo onto their profile, it was meticulously scrutinised, Photoshopped and beautified.

Then when I was around seventeen, Facebook came into play.  At first, I found it refreshing compared to the beauty pageant stiffness of MySpace.  People’s profile pages seemed to be more reflective of their lives – photos uploaded were more natural and it seemed to be a really easy way to stay connected with people.  There are always more ‘people you may know’, and for a while you think to yourself, ‘Wow, I really am quite a popular person.’  Accepting friend requests fills you with a rush of adrenaline and once you’ve clicked ‘Accept’ you sit back, content, watching your network of ‘friends’ grow.

But then, you find your newsfeed filled with absolute trollop – mundane, gramatically incorrect statuses of that girl who lived on the same floor as you in your first year at uni, and that person you used to work with but never spoke to – and you know that it is rubbish yet you feel compelled to read each and every one.  And then you feel horrible because you have all these self-absorbed meanderings of others mushed into your brain instead of doing something that revitalises you, and makes you happy to be alive.

At my lowest point, my Facebook newsfeed seemed to be a cacophony of grating voices, pulling me down, making me convinced that I was “missing out”.  Missing out on what, I couldn’t really say.  But what it does seem to do is make you so aware of everyone else’s lives that you find yourself comparing yourself with everyone else.  Sure, you may look at the girl in primary school who didn’t invite you to her 6th birthday party and feel a sense of smug satisfaction when you realise she’s divorced at the age of 22 with three kids, but it works both ways.  You can find out your ex is going out with a supermodel, or a friend that hurt you is in a great job and living the dream.  Either way, you’re spending so much time absorbed in the lives of other people that you forget about your own.

Of course, for many people, social media incites none of these feelings of inadequacy and insecurity and can even increase feelings of wellbeing, which is why I’m inclined to think that social media doesn’t induce depressive feelings .  I’ve used it in the past as a semi-masochistic way of justifying why I feel so rubbish instead of actually staying with my feelings, which seem too unbearable to sit and listen to.  It’s basically a way to misplace my frustrations and vulnerabilities.  Of course, seeing people you used to know doing well means you’re right to be unhappy!  And sometimes, it’s easier to be ‘right’ than happy.

But what is incredibly important to keep in mind when engaging in social media is how little you can learn about someone by their profile page.  I used to think everyone’s lives were so much more fascinating than mine, oblivious to the fact that one’s social profile is entirely deliberate.  A carefully constructed manifestation of how we’d like to be perceived.

It took me a while to really understand that a photograph doesn’t convey a whole story but a tiny fragment of a bigger picture, and that tiny fragments can be entirely misleading.   It’s when you can’t understand it for what it really is that social media can have a devastating impact on your wellbeing; it can convince you that everyone is experiencing so much more and what you have can never feel enough.

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8 Responses to “Does Facebook induce feelings of depression?”

  1. Ngoc Chi Le January 5, 2014 at 1:38 am #

    How about observing the way the act online and offline is totally different thing? I mean, like you meet someone new outside, you want to make facebook friend to understand them more, but the guy/ girl who looked so cheerful at a party last night is actually an introvert one. Or, the people you are very close with outside, actually rarely look at your status update?

    • jadeinlondon January 5, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks for your comment – you make some really interesting points. The discrepancy between your online and offline self is something I’ve always found uncomfortable – I always feel they should be the same but some people feel far more liberated on the internet and of course portray themselves differently. I suppose it’s about never taking things at face value – communicating via someone online is very different to getting to know them in person!

  2. Pete January 5, 2014 at 5:43 am #

    Maybe some people go on Face book for the opposite to boast and show their ‘friends’ how well they are doing.. The sound bite generation may indeed also be the ‘look at what I have become’ generation.

    • jadeinlondon January 5, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      I totally agree, and that’s when it becomes unhealthy. Unfortunately the majority of my generation seems to take this boasting as the norm!

  3. Ashlyn April 16, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Spot on, thank you! You wouldn’t believe how much this has helped me

    • jadeinlondon April 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      Thanks Ashlyn, I’m glad my post helped you 🙂 x

  4. Ann April 29, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    This is really well written article. Spot on. Well done! I have exactly the same feeling toward social media, that’s why I couldn’t care less about my Facebook and Twitter account. Haven’t used them probably in 3 yrs now.

    • jadeinlondon April 29, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

      Thanks so much for your comment, I feel much better after getting rid of my Facebook account x

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