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The Link Between Social Media and Depression

April 27, 2022

Author

Dr. Jennifer Chain is the President and Owner of Thrive for the People.

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Our phones are often one of the first things we reach for when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we touch before bed. Is the goal to check in with loved ones, connect deeply, and wish each other well? Not likely, most of us want to see what we missed.

Whose trending highest on TikTok? How does Twitter say we stack up politically? Whose images on “the Gram” are most enviable? Which inspirational FB quote is getting the most likes?

We are realizing that, for too many of us, social media has become all-consuming. Time, once devoted to freedom and creativity, falls victim to merciless and constant comparison, self-promotion, doomscrolling, and approval seeking.

Soon, we question and doubt ourselves. Harmful and unproductive thought patterns creep in. We allow ourselves to habitually scroll, comment, and accept unvetted input as our mental health declines.

Social Media Can Cause Depression

Throughout the pandemic, we saw how influential social media has become. News outlets and congresspeople are discussing the harm. Research about its impact has expanded from children and adolescents to parents and grandparents.

Until recently, most evidence indicated that social media was simply associated with depression. However, due to a recent study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, researchers note a clear causal relationship for the first time. In their work with 143 students, they determined that modifying social media use changed a person’s sense of wellbeing. Loneliness and depressive thinking were alleviated by reduced time on the platforms.

​So, what happens when we aren’t intentional about restricting social media use? How are we being harmed?

Social Media Can Make Us Vulnerable to FOMO & Isolation

We want to be included, to belong. It’s natural and social media amplifies that desire. Being able to click through images of every mixer, dinner party, or networking event you missed or weren’t invited to can play into deep insecurities. It can also make you question relationships you hold dear.

Fear of missing out, feeling left out, and isolation can lead to lowered self-esteem that feeds depressive thinking and withdrawal.

Social Media Can Be Persistent & Punishing

Born out of a 50-state survey called the COVID States Project, a tea​m of researchers studied more than 5,000 middle-aged respondents’ relationships with social media. Initially, these participants showed no signs of depression. When they surveyed the group later, Snapchat, Facebook, and TikTok users were more likely to report depression symptoms.

Though this research did not determine why depression occurred, it was still useful. The study helped eliminate other causes of the depression. For example, their analysis indicated that exposure to traditional news outlets, social supports, and real-world contact were not primary factors in fluctuating depression levels.

Social media, though, did impact depression levels significantly. This may have occurred because social media often acts as a continual, unhelpful information stream of “what might’ve been.” For many, repeated exposure to unrealized versions of happiness, success, or fulfillment is distressing. Similarly, being fed a diet of potentially damaging or emotionally charged content is problematic and painful too.

Even Facebook has admitted that social media has a negative impact on their user’s mental health. 

Social Media Can Skew Our Sense of “Enough is Enough”

Do you check your platforms between appointments, changes in location, waiting in line at the grocery store, or at every red light? Without a real effort toward self-monitoring social media, it can interfere terribly with healthy choices that protect the mind and body.

For example, social media-related sleep deprivation impacts your mood and productivity. Do you compulsively check your phone with every notification? This disrupts your nervous system, sleep cycle, and more. Unaddressed, this kind of use can negatively affect perception, behavior, and responses to people and situations.

How to Stay Positive and Set Social Media Limits

If you do not want to completely delete your social media apps, you can still ward off depression. Try these ideas to start improving self-awareness and feeling better:

  1. Time your social media interaction with an app or timer.
  2. Schedule a healthy balance of daily social interaction, offline and online.
  3. Take control of your phone. Turn off notifications to help you stay present and focused.
  4. Vet and unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or others.
  5. Be selective regarding accounts. Choose those that make you feel heard, valued, and purposeful.
  6. Engage with others. Use the platforms to connect and create real relationships.
  7. Be mindful. Don’t forget that social media is often disingenuous and inauthentic. What you see on social media may not be what it looks like in real life. Try not to compare your everyday life to other people’s best moments.

Reach Out for Depression Support

You do not have to surrender your time and mood to social media. Make time to enjoy life without comparison or internet interference at all. If you are struggling with depression symptoms and are having a hard time finding a way out of the negative patterns fueled by social media, we encourage you to reach out and contact us today. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to learn more about evidence-based depression treatment with our clinic. We would be happy to answer any questions about treatment and customize our support for you.

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