Is filtering making you depressed?

I’m writing this blog post after a very, very long and stressful day in the office and out. I’ve been sick, so I haven’t been sleeping well. I have a presentation at 9 AM tomorrow morning to my Senior Vice President (that will eventually go to our new Chief Marketing Officer) and so I was the last man standing in the marketing department tonight. For these two reasons, I missed my beloved Tuesday night spin class and settled for a bowl of soup for dinner. With two essays due for my Saturday class and this blog post to compose, I naturally did what any Millennial does when they sit down to do homework: I went on social media. What did I see?

  • A sorority sister who I haven’t spoken to since graduation is also sick, but her fiancé bought her flowers to make her feel better. #luckiestgirlalive
  • My best friend’s cousin is en route to Vegas for a company trip. #bestcoworkersever
  • A health magazine reminded me that I shouldn’t make any excuses for not working out. #beyourbest
  • Someone I met at a random party years ago made a beautiful quinoa bowl with avocado and kale. #cleaneating
  • Gronk joined Instagram (not complaining about this one…)

UGH. I felt even worse about my day…and that I actually had a handful of Cadbury Mini Eggs for dinner…

facebookmeme

To escape the seemingly perfect lives of those I follow on social, I began to actually do work and brainstorm my post. And that when I stumbled on a very interesting (and relevant) new study from the University of Pittsburgh: it turns out there’s a link between heavy social media use and depression.  Researchers surveyed about 1,800 men and women ages 19-32 about the time they spent on 11 prominent social media channels. These participants also completed depression testing. Now, this is not the first study to look at social media and its effect on our mood/ mood disorders. But previous studies have been limited in their sample size or limited to one channel. This is the first study to look broadly across channels and with a large audience.

Key findings of this study included:

  • Participants went on social media sites 30 times a week and about 60 minutes a day
  • 1/4 of the participants showed signs of depression
  • Those who used social media the most were 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than those who used social the least

Researchers are careful to point out that the study shows correlation, not causation. They do not know if more social media leads to people being depressed or if depressed people tend to be on social media more. Right now, it’s still a chicken-or-the-egg situation that warrants more investigation.

I don’t have depression and fully recognize that Tuesday was just a bad day. But I can’t say that this study offers surprise findings; I’ve heard of “Facebook depression” before. I can only imagine what it must be like for someone with true depression to go on social media sites and see these amazing filtered lives we’ve all created. Try as we might, we cannot hide our human (read: flawed) moments and traits behind Valencia or just choose not to post that day when we are out in the real world. However, online, we can be funnier, better looking, more successful, more athletic, smarter. I’ve even recently seen a Facebook friend announce her divorce in the happiest, most adult way ever (maybe it really was that way, but…). The times I have seen people reveal the messy parts of their lives, I’ve been totally thrown off and wondered “Why would you put that on social?!” That’s considered oversharing. At the end of the day, our social pages are Disney stories without the villain.

princesschar6

With all of this said, I don’t think the answer is for all of us to share our complete selves – the good and the bad – on social. We wouldn’t do that if we were all in a room together; the same should be true of social. I do think there is something to be said for less image manipulation, but that’s another blog post entirely…(lookin’ at you, Kardashians).

With this study, I think the real opportunity is from a behavioral health care perspective. In the future, will doctors be screening us for our social media use to better understand why we might be depressed? If we are diagnosed with depression, will doctors and other behavioral health specialists recommend going on social less or quitting altogether as part of treatment? Will we see more apps come out that help us reduce our social use and take better care for our mental health? The possibilities could be endless.

But for now, maybe (maybe) I’ll try spending a little less time on social…except for Saturday when I’m <knock-on-wood> posting about a Syracuse win and how #blessed I was to go there.

 

 

 

9 comments

  1. Great post! Love the analogy about the princesses without the villains. I think that’s spot on. I agree with you though, that social media shouldn’t be a place to dump everything about your life. There are some things that should just be kept personal and untouched. That said, without those features of our lives being broadcasted, it’s hard to avoid the “perfect” image on your social media accounts. I think the key is awareness that social media doesn’t tell the full story and an ability not to immediately compare ourselves and our lives to our followers or friends because they’re seemingly prettier/healthier/more productive than you are. Way easier said than done, but I think it’s unrealistic that social media will ever share users’ full stories.

  2. Great post. Hopefully the rest of your week has been better than your Tuesday! I am from Syracuse so will be cheering for the Orange as well on Saturday. I think that this is a very interesting study that shows the correlation between social media and depression. I have seen arguments both ways that social media leads to depression and also that depressed people are inclined to spend more time on social media. The main argument I have seen is that the people that spend the most time on social media are people who are trying to be perceived by others in a way that may not be “real.” I think that this could definitely explain the correlation. I deleted my Facebook a while ago and do not miss it whatsoever. I do still use Twitter and Instagram quite a bit and can say it definitely does not make me feel depressed.

  3. This is such a relevant topic, especially with the increase of social media use and users. To me, it makes perfect sense that there is a correlation with social media use and depression. As you mentioned, the majority of time, people are posting on Facebook to show how wonderful their lives are. If someone goes on Facebook during a bad day and sees all of these seemingly perfect posts, it is only going to make them feel worse. I think it is important to raise awareness about this tendency, especially to people such as younger generations that may be more susceptible to feelings of self-consciousness or inferiority to their peers. Although making people aware that there is more to people’s lives that they see on Facebook will not solve feelings of depression, it could be a good reminder. Additionally, I have had friends who decided to give up social media, and they say they are much happier because of it. However, for some people, this could just lead to feelings of “FOMO,” which might make them feel worse…

  4. While I tend to agree that we shouldn’t reveal every aspect of our lives on social, I do believe in sharing the good and the bad. It’s nice to sugarcoat pictures and post whatever inspirational text or song lyrics one might ponder, but I truly believe that social media is heading towards transparency. Not that I enjoy hearing the bad and the ugly in my friends’ and family’s lives, but I sometimes I like to offer my support during hard times. Sometimes I like getting into whacky conversations and challenging my peers. Great post overall though, and I like your point at the end about doctors’ possible future screenings of patients for overuse of social media. Cheers!

  5. ajsalcetti · ·

    For starters, I love that you ate Cadbury mini eggs – those in themselves make my day as I can only really find them at stores in this few week Easter period. Would cure any depressing I have before it starts. I do think you and the study are right on point with it being correlation and not causation. I would even suggest that it is a generational issue (not to be morbid), but researchers seem to indicate Millennials are just a harder nut to crack and may have some psychological dealings given when we were raised, how we were raised, etc in this current world and information age. So I wonder even with the third bullet nixing my thoughts a bit, that a quarter of people in our generation are just overwhelmed with the world and have some form of anxiety or depression…and then social media and the perfect images we can hide behind only perpetuate or magnify the issues of those needing some help. It’ll be interesting to follow this to the next generation down who was basically documented on Facebook from birth and had smart phones by kindergarten and see if the numbers are the same, better, or worse.

  6. What a relatable post! My personal observation is that the people who post the most on social media are the ones who are trying the hardest to convince everyone (and themselves) that they have a great life. It’s so interesting that there’s a correlation between depression and social media use. Sometimes it really does seem that social media has just become a highlight reel and its hard to remember that. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Bummer about Syracuse. Now I’m depressed (kidding). Fascinating idea about mental health professionals using social media data to help make diagnoses. I actually do think that examining those patterns may actually tell a therapist more about ourselves than we can often verbalize ourselves.

  8. Great post, Liz! Certainly a very relevant topic that we can all relate to in one way or another. I really liked the storytelling perspective you used to talk about this subject– I thought it really added to your message and the statistics from the study. I also really like that you tied the findings to future healthcare. The idea that social media use might come up as an amplifier of depression symptoms is interesting and weird for something that until now, we’ve seen as a fun and increasingly integral part of life. The article you cited about apps for controlling social media use reminded me of a somewhat related startup I recently heard about called Ginger.io– an app that helps you manage your depression and anxiety by monitoring your communications (who you talk to and how often) and behavior, and providing resources like a health coach and therapist that you can talk to through an in-app chat feature.

  9. This is a great post. I love the research and data you included. (Also I’m in your digital commerce class so I feel you on those two papers). I’ve stopped following celebrities, for the most part, because I don’t want their super-curated lives making me feel worse about mine. I have some friends who over-curate, but I have more awareness of the man behind the curtain, so to speak.

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