Is Social Media Making People Depressed?

May 3, 2016

Anyone who regularly uses social media will have had the experience of feeling envious of the fun their friends all seem to be having. This might especially be the case if you’re are sitting at home on a cold wet evening, feeling bored while everyone else is partying or having a glamorous holidays in the sun.

But is it possible that these feelings could be the start of something worse? Could using social media actually make you depressed? A recent U.S.-based study, sponsored by the National Institute for Mental Health, identified a “strong and significant association between social media use and depression in a … sample of U.S. young adults.” The study found that levels of depression increased with total amount of time spent using social media and number of visits to social media sites per week.

Previous studies have painted a more mixed picture. It would seem that the relationship between social media and depression and well-being is complex and likely to be influenced by a number of factors.

At its best, social media allows us to connect and keep up with friends and people we don’t see very often. It allows us to have short interactions with them that keep the relationships going when we don’t have much free time. At its worst, social media can, it seems, feed into feelings of inadequacy.

There are likely to be many complex reasons why social media use might be associated with depression. For instance, it is possible that people who are already depressed might be more inclined to rely on social media instead of face-to-face interactions, so greater social media use may be a symptom rather than a cause of depression.

An Unsatisfactory Fix

We all have a basic need to be liked and accepted by others and social media can play into this vulnerability. “Likes” are the currency of social media, and people who have low self-esteem may place great value on seeking validation from their social media use by trying to attract likes to their comments as a way of increasing their self-esteem. In this way, social media can be a bit of a popularity contest. Of course, “winning” the popularity contest by garnering the most likes is only a short-term boost to morale. It’s a precarious way to boost self-esteem.

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