Can Social Media Make You Depressed?

Published on 06/15/2016

With the surging popularity of the internet, social media has become an integrated part of society. Websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter form the foundation for active, second, digital lives that are lived by people of all ages. On the surface level social media allows users to stay connected with one another all over the planet so long as they have an internet connection. But rising research has shown that too much social media can lead to some severe depression. Mental health issues are not growing more common, though reports would make you think so, instead they are growing more diagnosed. We decided to dig into why social media may lead to mental depression in order to find some understanding for ourselves.

Constantly comparing yourself.

A huge facet of major depression is that unavoidable comparisons that you will consistently make with those around you. When you are depressed you tend to see everyone else for all of the traits that you feel you don’t possess. So if you are struggling at work and you see a bunch of your Facebook friends get promotions, dream internships, or even raises — then you can start to feel like a failure. This comparison isn’t healthy in any way, no matter what the comparison is actually about. Remember that you are only seeing the moments that these people choose to share with you. So it is entirely possible that they are struggling with issues of their own. The key here isn’t to hope that these other people are struggling, it’s to understand that you aren’t alone if you feel down.

Constantly comparing yourself

Feeling rejected.

As a side effect of our need for validation from peers, we also come to a point where we feel rejected when they don’t validate what we had to share. Speaking anecdotally, I know how bad I feel when my Facebook friends don’t give attention to a picture that I shared which means a lot to me. This feeling of rejection permeates the rest of your mood and you begin to second guess yourself. It sounds silly, but one of the foundations to a major depressive disorder is the feeling that you can’t be right and that nobody appreciates what you are doing. Depression itself doesn’t always work in logic and, in fact, quite often it does not. Rejection isn’t limited to lack of social media interaction, it also comes to you through feeling left out. On Facebook you can see your friends talk to each other, so how would you feel if you saw them planning a get together without you? They are in the right to do whatever they wish, but it still stings to feel left out.

Feeling rejected

Feelings of disconnection.

Social media websites like Facebook are great in a vacuum. The easy to use interface allows you to keep up to date on literally everything your friends and loved ones choose to share with you. You can watch in real time as your loved ones grow up, get married, go on adventures, and even fall in love. however, seeing all of these activities occur from the surface of your screen can lead to feelings of disconnection. Dr. Paula Durlofsky, of MainLine Today, suggests that users engage in more ‘intimate digital interaction’ if they are feeling disconnection, such as private messages or even texts.

A need for validation.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a psychologist and his studies showed that social media websites work off of our innate craving for some sort of positive attention. Think about it like this: Why would Facebook implement the ‘like button’ unless it was in order to fulfill some deeper craving that we have. The button itself is functionally useless. A student at VCU admitted to deleting his Facebook posts if they don’t get enough attention because he doesn’t feel validated in what he posted. The student went on to explain that he would get ‘excited’ whenever he received a notification, such as a like or comment. His heart would race and he would see his mood pick up for a momentary boosted high. We are humans and we want to be loved and given attention. When we don’t get that validation then we feel lousy.

A need for validation

Relationship replacement.

According to a study done by the University of Michigan, headlined by Professor Ethan Kross, Facebook makes us fundamentally unhappy because it changes the paradigm of what we expect in a relationship. In fact the study goes on to show how we replace real, physical, relationships with digital versions that aren’t as fulfilling. When you use Facebook and other social media websites to complement you relationship then everything is enhanced and you shouldn’t really feel any ill effects. However, when users decide to substitute their physical relationships with the digital alternative then you can start to see depression pop up. Fundamentally a ‘digital relationship’ is an easy, lazy, way to get a semblance of the real thing — only without all of the physical stimuli that actually make relationships worth having, such as the touch of a hand or a kiss. This goes even further when applied to simple friendships. Suddenly friends stop hanging out, then quit talking, and then resort to only communication via Facebook. It’s a sad and addicting route that can destroy social lives and lead to some major issues.

Relationship replacement

Contagious fighting.

Depression comes in many form and one form is a reflexive reaction to confrontation. The anonymity of the internet allows people to post their opinions (largely) without fear of repercussion. This same anonymous factor often leads to users behaving in more brash and conflict heavy ways. You wouldn’t typically insult someone to their face simply for having a different opinion, but that sort of behaviour is increasingly common an a hostile and digital world. So this fighting, for those who are not ready for it, can be particularly impacting which could lead to anger, depression, frustration, and bouts of bullying.

Contagious fighting

Learn too much.

In the age of the internet pretty much anything you could want to know is at your fingertips. Social media evolved this digital library by putting out everything you could ever want to learn about someone. This knowledge can be good and bad, but also very uncomfortable. Following a friend on Facebook could lead you to finding about their closeted views that clash strongly with yours. You could find out that your boss is bigoted, or rude. You could see pictures showing friends behaving in a way you would never expect of them. While knowledge isn’t good or bad, it’s just knowledge after all, it can effect the psyche in ways you don’t anticipate.

Learn too much

Popularity contest.

The world itself is one gigantic popularity contest. In real life we judge popularity based on how much money you might have, how many friends want to hang out with you, attention from the opposite sex, career goals — and so on. Now with social media we are even trying to become ‘popular’ on the internet. Now it matters how many likes you get on a post, how many followers you have, how many comments people post on your status. While being popular on social media is fine, it can hurt those who don’t get that same attention. We spoke about the U of M study that showed our addiction to attention, and when we don’t get it then we feel even worse.

Popularity contest

No ‘highlights’ to share.

Probably the biggest cause of depression in relation to social media is the way ‘highlights’ work. Highlights are the things you share on Facebook that make you excited. When you get a promotion, meet your favorite actor, or go on a cool vacation. We see our friends post these amazing adventures and then suddenly feel inadequate by comparison. Our highlights aren’t entertaining. In fact, our highlights may not even be as prevalent. Lacking highlights to share can make you lose self esteem and damage your mentality, leading to a depressed funk.

No 'highlights' to share