There are many great aspects to social media, such as the ease of long-distance communication and the ability to connect with people you otherwise might never have met. But there are also many downfalls, including social media depression.
What Is Social Media Depression?
The link between social media and depression has been well-documented. One study found that the number of teenagers who experienced high levels of depressive symptoms increased from 2010 to 2015 by 33%. In that same time period, students visiting college counseling centers for depression and anxiety increased 30%. A recent John Hopkins study discovered that teenagers ages 12-15 who spent more than three hours a day on social media were twice as likely to experience aggression, anxiety, or depression.
This increase in depressive symptoms coincides with the rise in smartphones. Smartphones hit the market in 2007, and eight years later, 92% of teenagers and young adults owned one.
Most studies so far have centered on youth, but the prevalence of social media use affects people of all ages — and so do the mental health risks.
Is Increased Social Media Usage Actually Causing Depression?
Some mental health theorists have argued that social media isn’t causing depression, but that people more prone to depressive tendencies are more likely to use social media in a way that triggers their symptoms. This study found that people with depression or prone to depression use social media differently than others. These individuals are more likely to follow people they consider “better than them,” and are less likely to post photos of themselves with others.
A relatively new study concluded that there is a causal link between depression and social media usage. The study split participants into one group that would use their social media as normal, and another that would be limited to 30 minutes per day. The participants in the limited social media group had a greater decrease in both loneliness and depressive symptoms, with the greatest changes happening in those individuals who reported initially the highest levels of depression.
Whether increased social media usage can lead to depression, or whether people with depressive tendencies are more likely to have exasperated depressive symptoms due to social media, there’s no denying the link.
How Does Social Media Depression Affect Your Daily Life?
Social media was designed to make us more connected, so why is it causing so many people to feel depressed?
Self-esteem. Social media usually presents a curated version of someone’s life, highlighting everything from their relationship milestones to their vacations abroad. Even though we’re usually aware of viewing a highlights reel, this can often leave us feeling as if our own life is mundane or even stagnated.
Negativity. Social media is filled with negativity, from the endless breaking news cycle on Twitter to angry Facebook rants, which can lead to us experiencing more negative feelings ourselves. Facebook conducted an experiment on this by manually altering the newsfeeds of over 600,000 users to display more negative content. They found that these users were more likely to post negative content and more likely to create a ripple effect of negative content increases among their friends.
Physical health. Social media can lead to a decrease in physical exercise, and physical exercise has been shown to help with symptoms of depression. Excessive computer and phone use can also cause numerous health conditions, from insomnia to carpal tunnel syndrome, which can make someone more vulnerable to depression.
Concentration. Social media never turns off. There are always tweets to read, Instagram stories to watch, news stories piling up in your saved links. This culture of constant stimulation can easily make us feel overwhelmed and unable to concentrate on any one task.
Isolation. Social media can connect us to people outside of our regular social circles and help us stay in touch with people who live far away. But there is no substitute for spending time in-person with friends and family. When we spend time with people virtually, we do not receive the same feelings of well-being and pleasure that we do from face-to-face time.
How Can I Combat Social Media Depression?
If you are suffering from social media depression, there are a number of measures you can take. Reducing your time on social media is a good first step. There are numerous accountability apps that can help you set a daily limit.
For most of us, going cold-turkey on social media isn’t feasible, but you can be more mindful of your social media usage. Are you using social media to stay in touch with friends, or are you just mindlessly scrolling on your lunch break or while standing in line? Try to eliminate or reduce the instances when you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed just out of habit.
While connecting with friends over social media is a great tool, make sure that you don’t let that be a stand in for face-to-face time. Prioritize, whenever possible, an in-person lunch date or game night for a chat over messenger.
What If That’s Not Enough?
Treating depression usually involves multiple approaches. Limiting social media usage and increasing in-person contact may not be enough for you. If you think that you need more to treat your depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation might be able to help. Contact us today to learn more.