Is Social Media Making Your Depression Worse?
Our world today is very interconnected. We use various social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to stay in touch with one another, and also to share our lives with the world in a new and public way. However, other reasons for the use of these platforms may be at play, and they may actually fuel our negative emotions, including depression.
Sometimes, we may increase our use of social media because we feel lonely or isolated. However, once we log on, we do not always use that time to reach out to others. Rather, we simply peer into the lives of our friends and acquaintances, wondering how we measure up. For people who already experience low self-esteem, comparison-shopping between your posts and your friends’ posts can worsen feelings of depression. This can hold true even if these posts reveal that you are doing better than your friends, or that you had a more interesting day. However, since people with depression typically fail to see their successes and only see their failures, it is not likely they will be able to recognize if they are doing better than their peers, and will instead focus on the ways they feel they are doing worse.
In this case, use of social media can drive down our feelings of self-worth, worsening our depressive symptoms and making it more difficult for us to recognize and understand the reasons we are sad.
When we use social media to replace actual social interactions, this can contribute to our feelings of isolation. This is in no small part because the majority of people present a highly curated persona to the world on social media. That is, many people only post the good in their life, which can lead an outside observer to feel like nothing bad ever happens to their friends and acquaintances, but only to them. This internalization of negative experiences is a narcissistic interpretation of the world — an interpretation where the depressed person is the center of a worldwide conspiracy to make their lives miserable. It is ironic that depressed people and people with low self-esteem interpret the world in a narcissistic manner, since their own personal interpretation of their value to the world is that they are worthless. However, these feelings of worthlessness can lead people with depression to feel like nothing is ever good in their life, no matter how hard they try. Looking at the curated lives of their friends on social media may worsen these feelings for people struggling with depression.
What Could Have Been
People with depression may also use social media to look at the lives of specific people — exes, ex-best friends, or the most popular person in your high school class. A depressed person may be looking at these people’s profiles or feeds as a way to determine a) how that person is better off without them, or b) how their life would have been better with — or as — that person. This is an even more dangerous form of comparison than the lonely hearts version discussed above, because this focus on specific people can cause the depressed person to spiral down and down with every good thing that the objects of their obsession experience. It may also spiral down at bad things, if the depressed person fixates on how they may have been able to “save” that person or persons from whatever happened to them. Again, this is highly ironic, given that a person with low self-esteem often interprets themselves as “unsaveable” from their own personal hell of depression and low self-worth.
Another way that social media may make our depression worse is if we are using it to seek validation. Young girls who post daily selfies may experience a worsening of their depression when they do not get enough “likes” or “favorites” of a particular photo. It may lead to a black hole of negative thoughts, such as “I must look fat in that picture…I need to go on another diet…or what if it’s just my face? Am I ugly? I wonder if I would look better with more makeup…but I’ve heard that pretty girls don’t need to wear makeup…” and on and on, with no escape from the negativity and sadness that results. Similarly, the pressure people may feel from receiving a lot of “likes” or “favorites” on a post may contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression, and the need to curate a perfect profile so that one can maintain those numbers. When validation is tied to social media interaction, it is a breeding ground for low self-esteem and worsening depressive feelings.
Escaping the Cycle
Try a test: do not use social media for one day. See how you feel. If you feel a little better, try not using it for three days. Eventually, you will come to understand what level of social media interaction is healthy and makes you feel good versus when it is unhealthy and begins to make you feel bad about yourself or worsen your feelings of depression and low self-esteem.