BENGALURU: Whenever Lavanya (name changed) felt lonely, unhappy or was unable to communicate with her family, the 12-year-old would shut herself in Facebook and post stories that conveyed real-life incidents that she experienced. The stories would generally weave around a lonely girl in an unhappy environment.
For the 400-odd friends on her Facebook account, these were expressions of Lavanya’s creativity. But for the Bengaluru girl, the likes and comments from her peer group were a kind of “catharsis”, say doctors at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans), who have recorded this as their first case of a person using Facebook as a method of coping with negative emotions.
Experts at the Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) Clinic at the institute say it’s the first time they have come across a case where Facebook was not just a tool to vent out emotions. Lavanya was brought to the clinic at Nimhans after her family grew worried. She used Facebook no less than six hours a day and would communicate her day-to-day happenings. The addiction was such that she told psychiatrists that whenever she stopped the Facebook storytelling, she experienced feelings of loneliness, irritability and anger.
“She was fond of reading fiction and portrayed herself in the story as a lonely girl who had to face challenges of an unfriendly environment,” said Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, additional professor, SHUT Clinic.Lavanya would change the names of the characters in her posts and narrate stories that were actually her real-life incidents. She would then wait for responses from her friends on Facebook. Each time, she named the characters differently and sought reaction.
“She was trying to cope with the feelings of unhappiness, negative communication with family members and loneliness. She felt happy with the comments she received from friends,” said Dr Sharma.
He explained that though the girl told her counsellors that it was her “creative expression”, it was a dangerous trend as it had led to isolation from reality. “So far, it was thought that people use social media to vent out feelings. It has now come to light that they look to it for coping with situations as well. Addiction to this leads to a complete cut-off from the real world,” he warned. The girl was counselled for over a year at Nimhans and is doing fine now, according to Dr Sharma.
The SHUT Clinic sees at least five new cases every week at the screening for tech and online addiction
Cases of video game addiction is the most frequently seen
Case of Facebook storytelling:Implications for expression of coping behaviour has been published in the Journal for Mental Health and Human Behaviour