Given that Facebook have 1.79 billion monthly active users, there is no doubt that it is a popular social platform. The irony of Facebook – a platform designed to make us more sociable – is that the site has been linked to depression – a condition that can result in withdrawal and social isolation. Is it possible to avoid “Facebook depression”?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) proposed the existence of Facebook depression in 2011. They defined the condition as: “Depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.”
While the AAP received some criticism from those who argued that their claims were not adequately supported, previous research has suggested that using Facebook is linked to several mental health consequences, including depression, low self-esteem, and jealousy.
Low moods and depressive symptoms appear to go hand-in-hand with Facebook use, but one of the triggering factors seems to be “social comparison.”
People who regularly use Facebook are exposed to the “glossy showreel” of friends, family, and acquaintances’ lives. The idealized highlights of the daily existence of their peers may provoke feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others may lead happier, more exciting, and more successful lives.
Studies indicate that some people are more susceptible to developing depression when they use technology for extended periods of time, or may even become detached from their real-life social or work environments.
A new systematic review of all the literature linking social media networking sites with depression was conducted by Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, in order to examine the relationship between the two.
Of the 799 articles on the subject, there were 30 that met the criteria for inclusion in the review. The findings were mixed, with 16 percent of the studies finding a link between online social networking and depression, 6 percent finding that social networks do not cause depression and, in fact, have a positive impact on mental health, and 13 percent finding no significant link either way.
David A. Baker, doctorate in clinical psychology at the Faculty of Health and Medicine, and Guillermo Perez Algorta, Ph.D., of the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research, Division of Health Research at the Faculty of Health and Medicine – both from Lancaster University in the U.K. – carried out the review.
Their findings – published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking – suggest that there is a complex relationship between online social networking and depression. The researchers say that social comparison was the trigger in cases where there was a significant association between social networking and depression. They say that comparing yourself with others can lead to “rumination,” or overthinking.
Comparing yourself negatively to others when using Facebook was shown to predict depression by the act of overthinking. Frequently posting on Facebook was also associated with depression for the same reason.
Additionally, the frequency, quality, and type of social networking interactions were also found to be important factors.
There are particular types of social networking behaviors that make it more likely for individuals to develop Facebook depression. These include:
- Obsessing over “virtual identity” and how they are perceived by others
- Envy activated by observing other people’s lives
- Accepting invites from former partners to become Facebook friends
- Frequently posting status updates and interacting excessively
- Negatively comparing themselves with others.
Avoiding all five of these behaviors could help to prevent the onset of Facebook-induced depression.
Baker and Algorta also note that gender and personality could play a role in the risk of Facebook depression. They say that women and people with neurotic personalities have an increased risk of becoming depressed.
They also say that while some people have negative experiences while using online social networking, others have positive experiences. They write:
“While the concept of ‘Facebook depression’ may be over-simplistic and may fail to take into account the myriad of factors that affect this relationship both positively and negatively, and despite the limitations identified in the research, the findings suggest that for some people online social networking may be associated with increased symptoms of depression while for others the activity may be beneficial.”
For people with depression, the researchers point out that online social networking platforms could particularly help those who use online activity as a mental health resource to enhance social support.