Depression can be debilitating, greatly affect the lives of its sufferers and their loved ones, and is caused by many things. There's depression caused by chemical imbalances, situational depression, and it's also been discovered that the mental illness can be caused by genetic predisposition. Millions of Americans of all ages suffer from depression, and the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh has discovered a new source of the problem: social media. Their results show that the more young people use social media, the more likely it is that they will develop depression or that their depression will worsen.
Almost 1,800 Americans age 19 to 32 were studied in 2014 and given questionnaires about their social media usage. An established tool used by psychologists and psychiatrists to evaluate and assess depression was also used in the study. Whereas prior studies focused on just one social media platform or used a relatively small sample, this one specifically asked about 11 social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Google Plus, and LinkedIn.
Today, social media is so intertwined with our daily lives and has changed how we interact in our society to the point that its use is often problematic. Some young adults have grown up without knowing how to effectively communicate and develop relationships offline, and clinicians have now recognized how important it is that people learn to maintain a balance when it comes to social media. While it does have its benefits, overuse of social media is now linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression.
The results of the study were published in the medial journal Depression and Anxiety, and found that those who used social media the most throughout any given week were 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than those who spent less time browsing social media websites. Other factors known to contribute to depression, such as age, ethnicity, income, and relationship status, were noted for each participant.
The researchers who conducted the study think that social media may exacerbate depression in individuals who are affected by the illness, but it's also suspected that social media usage is a factor in determining someone's likelihood of becoming depressed. In a way, social media is being used as a void to take people's minds off things in their non-virtual worlds. A quick look at the feed on any social media platform will reveal this to be evident.
How many times have you looked at a site such as Pinterest or Facebook and started making damaging social comparisons, such as wishing that you could vacation like your friends, or wondering if you'll ever have an awesome house like the one that you see immaculately decorated on your favorite boards. Sites like Reddit are often full of bullying and threads that are detrimental to the mental and emotional health of people who are vulnerable to developing depression. Even the seemingly petty drama that often unfolds on Twitter and Instagram can be enough to put you in a pessimistic or down mood. And whether a person is prone to depression or not, how much good can it really do it constantly be bombarded with the idea that you're not doing your life the right way, all because of posts made by people that could very well be faking it themselves?
Decreasing the Risk
Some social media platforms have acknowledged that internet and social media addiction can occur and have instituted preventative measures to help people who may be depressed or suicidal. For instance, if you're on Tumblr and search for "hopeless" or "depressed", the results will redirect you to a message that asks if you're "OK" and provides links to mental health resources. Facebook has experimented with implementing similar features that are aimed at preventing suicides and getting help for people who post messages that seem troubling. The problem, however, is that what is "troubling" is subjective and such features can be abused. In the future, studies that look at social media's affects on mental illness will need to look deeper at how people interact with the sites.
By contrast, Denmark's Happiness Research Institute found that individuals who stopped using Facebook altogether were happier. In this study, more than 1,000 Danish people were divided into two groups. One group quit using Facebook for a week, and 88 percent of them said they felt happy after the week was over. They also reported feeling more enthusiastic and decisive, less worried, and less lonely. Being free from the illusion that their lives weren't as nice or perfect as others is part of what led to the positive effects of abstaining from the website.
Seeing a barrage of photos and statuses showing adventurous getaways, new families and births, shopping sprees, and great careers 24/7 in a constant stream can be too much. Overuse of social media leads some people to question the worth of their own lives, and can also make people feel that their lives are dull. Worse, it encourages others to hide their imperfections and depict perfect lives that they don't even have.
Anyone who has used Facebook and witnessed the havoc its usage can wreak understands just why breaking free from it could lead to less stress, a better sense of peace, and more happiness. It's not just spending less time on social media that leads to feeling better -- taking a break leaves more room for actual face to face interaction with people that provides significant mental health benefits.
It's understandable that some people are putting the onus on the websites to decrease the risks of social media-centric depression, but doing so would have more drawbacks than benefits and really doesn't fix the root of the problem: people are spending too much time on social media. It wouldn't be wrong to say that the best way to reduce the risks associated with using social media is to stop relying on it so much and get back to the real world more often.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker