Does social media drive your mental health?

By Rajyogi Brahmakumar Nikunj| Express News Service | Published: 11th September 2018 10:57 PM
Image for representational purpose only

As per WHO report, it is estimated that nearly 300 million people suffer from depression which is now considered as a leading cause of disability worldwide. Nowadays most of the people use social media platforms, such as twitter and facebook, to share their thoughts and opinions with their contacts.

As such, social media provides a means for capturing behavioural attributes that are relevant to an individual’s thinking, mood, communication, activities, and socialisation, the emotion and language used in social media posts may indicate feelings of worthlessness, guilt, helplessness, and self-hatred that characterise major depression. This happens with most of us who regularly use social media on a daily basis. Nobody would deny the fact that they have had the experience of feeling envious of the fun their friends seem to be having. This might especially be the case if you are sitting at home, feeling bored while everyone else is partying or having a comfortable holiday in the sun.

According to a majority of us, it's obvious and natural to feel like that. So how is it possible that these feelings could be the start of something worse like depression? Does it make any sense that using social media actually makes you depressed? Well! a recent study sponsored by the NIMH (National Institute for Mental Health, USA), identified a strong and significant association between social media use and depression. The study found that levels of depression in youth increased with the total amount of time they spent using social media and the number of visits to social media sites per week. 

There are likely to be many complex reasons why social media use might be associated with depression. For instance, it is possible that people who are already depressed might be more inclined to rely on social media instead of face-to-face interactions, so greater social media use may be a symptom rather than a cause of depression. We all know that ‘likes’ are the currency of social media, and people who have low self-esteem may place great value on seeking validation from the social media by trying to attract likes to their comments as a way of increasing their self-esteem. In this way, social media can be a bit of a popularity contest.

Of course, ‘winning’ the popularity contest by garnering the most likes is only a short-term boost to morale. According to psychiatrist’s, in some cases social networking relationships can have a positive emotional effect as well. There are numerous studies that indicate that social media sites can be positive for people struggling with social anxiety and depression. With all these conflicting reports, it would be wise to understand our own personal reasons for using such platforms.

Because we need to evaluate whether our use of these sites is helping or hindering our sense of connection and our overall emotional health. Once we understand our underlying psychological needs for these sites, we can adjust our expectations. For example, if we are using these sites to build friendships, it’s important to be aware of their limitations in order to avoid disappointment. When we find ourselves feeling left out, inadequate, irritable or jealous after reading stories or viewing photos of our friends’ activities, it’s a clear indication that our cyber-relationships are not meeting our emotional needs. So best is to limit ourselves and be happy doing other things which gives us more happiness and peace of mind.

We must understand one thing practically that viewing a friend’s vacation pictures and posts will not be as gratifying as having the chance to talk to our friend about his or her vacation in person or on a telephone. Because after all, most social networking users will not post vacation pictures and stories that convey the difficult moments they might have had on their vacation.

So, having a balanced perspective and realistic expectations about social media networking can prevent feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, depression, and social comparisons. Along with this, it is also important to assess the quality of our non-virtual relationships. This can be done by taking a hard look at the amount of actual time we spend with the people who are important to us. Remember! it is impossible, to replace the feelings of connection that manifest from having personal, genuine relationships.

This is not to say that social networking is all bad or that our relationships from these sites are not genuine. But, it is important to keep in mind their limitations so that we can adjust our expectations accordingly.

Tags : social media smartphone depression

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