Could Cutting Down On Social Media Use Ease Anxiety and Depression?

By David Konow 01/04/17

Recent studies examined the psychology behind social media anxiety and “Facebook depression.”

Woman in duress looking at computer.

Many stories about anxiety dominated the news last year, whether they've highlighted celebrities talking about their anxiety battles, anxiety over the election, or how everyday people of all ages are struggling to overcome their nerves.

Now there have been studies on what’s being called “social media anxiety,” and even “Facebook depression.” Some experts feel that if you want to cut down the emotional and mental stress in your life, you may want to cut down on your social media use.

At first, some doctors scoffed at terms like “Facebook depression,” but according to one recent study, people who visit seven or more social media sites are three times more likely to experience depression than people who use two or fewer social media platforms.

While it might be odd to think about discussing your social media use with your psychiatrist, one physician and lead author of the study, Dr. Brian A. Primack, told WTEA, “This association is strong enough that clinicians could consider asking their patients with depression and anxiety about multiple platform use and counseling them that this use may be related to their symptoms. While we can’t tell from this study whether depressed and anxious people seek out multiple platforms or whether something about using multiple platforms can lead to depression and anxiety, in either case the results are potentially valuable.”

In conducting this research, nearly 2,000 adults between ages 19-32 were asked which social media platforms they frequented, then their levels of depression were assessed.

“It may be that people who suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety, or both, tend to subsequently use a broader range of social media outlets,” Primack added. “It could also be that trying to maintain a presence on multiple platforms may actually lead to depression and anxiety. More research will be needed to tease that apart.”

According to Medical News Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics first defined Facebook depression in 2011. One of the reasons adolescents can suffer from it is what researchers call “social comparison,” when you compare the “glossy showreel” of happy times in people’s lives with your own (this has also been called “compare and despair”).

This can lead to “the distorted belief that others may lead happier, more exciting, and more successful lives” than you do. Obsessing over one's "virtual identity" is one risk factor which can distort a person's perception of reality and make "Facebook depression" more likely.

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.