A new study offers up more concrete proof that using social media can lead to increased depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Knowing this risk, why then do so many among us spend their time on these social media platforms?
We have to admit that something has changed dramatically in the world. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people saying they feel depressed, stressed, anxious, unsettled and lonely. But, with “social media,” and the key word being “social,” how can this be? Shouldn’t we be feeling more connected and involved? Doesn’t it stand to reason that as we spend more time “together” online, that we’d feel happier? Clearly not.
I’m not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV (j/k), but it seems evident that social media is a hollow promise — it may give us the means to “connect” more, but perhaps it’s not the right venue? People seemed far happier when we spent time together in person — when we spoke face-to-face and could see smiles, hear upbeat tones or see a twinkle in a friend’s eye, we truly connected in a meaningful way.
“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely. Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.” – Melissa G. Hunt, Associate Director of Clinical Training, University of Pennsylvania s Psychology Department.
This makes perfect sense. We’re reading posts and looking at pictures of the lives of our “friends” and sometimes, we get jealous. “Doesn’t her life look so perfect!?” Sure, it looks perfect, but it’s not, because your friend put up only the best pictures and carefully crafted her words, thus making all seem idyllic. However, when we’re feeling a bit blue and we spend hours surfing social media, we see those posts and pictures and we begin to doubt our own lives — suddenly, everyone else’s life is great, but our own is crap. That of course is not the case, but that’s what we think at that time and as we know, perception becomes the reality…for a while anyway.
“Here’s the bottom line, using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.” – Melissa G. Hunt
Do we avoid social media completely?
No. The study results don’t necessarily say that using social media is bad, per se, but we do need to be mindful of how much time we spend on those sites and that we should be aware of what we’re seeing/reading and how it is affecting us.
And, while the study didn’t conclude how much time on social media is too much time, Hunt says the findings draw two related conclusions that we should bear in mind:
“For one, reduce opportunities for social comparison. When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life. Secondly, because these tools are here to stay, it’s incumbent on society to figure out how to use them in a way that limits damaging effects. In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.” – Melissa G. Hunt
Personally, I’m concerned that social media is causing more harm than good. The questions we have to ask ourselves are: “Does the benefit outweigh the negatives?” And, “Are we missing out on the beauty of life by staring into a digital world that will never fulfill our needs as living, breathing human beings?”