Could Facebook be making you sad, or worse, depressed? It might seem a strange claim to make, since social media has enabled people to keep in touch with friends and family around the world in a way that could never have been imagined a generation ago. However some folk who log on simply see people who seem permanently happy, enjoying fulfilling lives, which then leads to thoughts of inadequacy.
As one Facebook user commented: “The thing I hate the most is how usually everyone is doing funnier things than me, or having a better life, or how lucky they got, or what cool holiday they are on.”
Another said: “I’ve noticed myself getting more depressed and feeling lonelier after being on Facebook. All I see is pictures of children and grandchildren, and I was never blessed with either. I then made myself feel even worse by looking at pictures of my ex with his new partner.”
It is sometimes hard to realise that people are presenting an idealised portrait of themselves on such sites, and are disguising the fact that they have the upsets and difficult times that everyone else has.
An American study of students found that the longer people spent on social media sites, the more they believed that other people had happier lives. The researchers concluded that if you were feeling down you should log off and call your best friend instead.
Nor is it just social media causing such thoughts just now – when the weather improves in the spring, it is easier to believe that some people are happier and shedding off the drabness of winter far easier than others.
In some cases this can add to a person’s depression. Depression is not simply a passing mood or something you can convince yourself not to feel. It is a health disorder, that fortunately can be treated with counselling, medication, or a combination of both. The most important step towards treating depression is asking for help.
The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely, but generally, if you are depressed, you feel sad, full of hopelessness, and with no interest in things you normally enjoy. If they persist, they can interfere with your work, family, and social life.
You are unlikely to suffer from all those, but the psychological symptoms can often include low moods, sadness, low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, guilt and anxiety. You may have no motivation, find it difficult to make decisions, get no enjoyment out of life, feel irritable and become guilt-ridden and intolerant of others. You may also have thoughts of harming yourself or even suicide.
Physical symptoms can include changes in appetite or weight, moving or speaking more slowly, unexplained aches and pains, lack of energy, lack of interest in sex and disturbed sleep.
Socially your work may suffer, you take part in fewer social activities, avoid friends and have difficulties with your family life.
Depression can come on gradually, making it difficult to spot something is wrong, and it is often a friend or family member who suggests something is not right. If such symptoms persist for over two weeks then you should seek help from your GP or consider contact a counselling firm, such as Equilibria.
In the meantime it may help if you become more active, don’t withdraw from life and keep in touch with friends you can talk to when feeling low. There is evidence that exercise can help lift your mood, even if it is just walking for 20 minutes every day if you have not exercised recently.
Don’t avoid the things you find difficult as this can lead to a loss of confidence – and don’t drink too much alcohol as alcohol itself can become part of the problem.
Be aware that when you are down, you can get into poor sleep patterns, staying up late and sleeping during the day. So try to get up at your normal time and stick to your routine as much as possible.
If you are still down or anxious after a couple of weeks talk to your GP or consider if the help available from Equilibria would suit your own circumstances.