The Very Real Link Between Social Media and Depression


by Cathy Neville, LPC

Are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram making you sad?

Take a moment to peruse the posts, tweets, and selfies of your social media friends.

Judging by appearances, depression may not be the word that necessarily springs to mind. After all, depression is a serious mood disorder, marked by persistent sadness and worthlessness. Look again at those posts:

Can everyone really be that happy and attractive?

Are their families really so content and well-adjusted?

Would they admit it if they weren’t?

Would you?

Is “Social Media Depression” Real?

In recent years, significant attention has been paid to the impact of social media on our minds and relationships. While there isn’t any mention of social media-induced depression in the official manual of mental disorders, more and more therapists are seeing a connection. In time, more research like the well-known study series at Stanford University titled “Misery Has More Company Than People Think,“ will help determine whether social media creates depressive thoughts or simply amplifies them.

What Makes Some Social Media Users So Sad?

Tweets and updates gratify our need to be seen and heard. Photos and videos allow us to share our experiences in full color.

But how long can we keep ourselves honest about what we share? Depressive thoughts can gain a foothold as the happy desire to add a friend or follower gives way to the pressure to keep up appearances.

Examine how symptoms of depression are linked to the behaviors of many social media users:

Worthlessness and dissatisfaction are common feelings associated with depression.

Social media can play havoc with your self-esteem. Measuring yourself by the lives of others becomes commonplace on social sites. Recent studies of social media use show that more “friends” on your list simply creates more people to compare yourself to and keep up with. Competition in the social media world can be exhausting. There are very few “likes” for average days and boring selfies. It’s easy to get caught up in fabulous virtual exaggerations and mistakenly conclude that your life and pursuits aren’t worth much.

 Masks or emotional numbness are often coping mechanisms for depression.

Negativity and “downer” behavior isn’t as well received on social media as upbeat announcements and inspirational quotes. You may feel down privately, but you keep smiling on screen. People go out of their way to keep the happy facade in place.

We may crave deeper connection, but the superficial, unspoken parameters of the medium keep us operating from an idealized version of ourselves. Unknowingly, we pressure others to do the same. The disconnect becomes a sad reminder that many of the people we connect with aren’t really close to us at all.

Interrupted relationships and withdrawal are often the fallout of persistent depression.

Untreated, depression pulls you away from people and shared activities you once enjoyed. Superficiality, social anxiety, and social isolation often make their way through the real-time relationships of depression sufferers, especially those who spend inordinate amounts of time on social media.

Too often, social sites can be a convenient distraction from real people when depressive withdrawal is present. However, many users report feeling even less hopeful or comforted, finding that their depression grows as they sense their vast online community is more isolating than insulating.

Be kind to yourself the next time you log on to social media.

Consider the validity of the boasts and photos.

Survey your feelings about yourself when you’re writing a post.

If you have trouble fighting off sadness or inadequacy, consider the help of an experienced therapist.

He or she will help you move past virtual identity toward a more complete life.

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