Article: Does Facebook Make Us Depressed?

I stumbled across this article on Twitter – which, along with LiveJournal, have been my preferred stomping grounds as of late. Coincidentally, in tune with this article, I have been avoiding Facebook in favour of my mental health and stability.

Does Facebook Make Us Depressed?
Posted by Jorge Cino on January 28th, 2011 12:45 PM

From publishing “likes” but not showing “dislikes,” to having profile pictures show ourselves at our cutest, people tend to depict only the happiest aspects of their lives on Facebook. Problem is, this is the side that we often see from our friends as well. Could comparing ourselves to others’ profiles make us depressed?

In her interesting column for Slate, “The Anti-Social Network,” writer Libby Copeland makes a provoking assertion: By helping people appear happy all the time, Facebook may be making us sad. She bases her claim on a recent scientific paper called “Misery Has More Company Than People Think,” led by Stanford psychologist Alex Jordan and published in the January issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

People often misconstrue and overestimate other people’s happiness, and even fail to correctly interpret the mood of close friends and family members. This “inability” to appropriately gauge others’ emotional states of mind, Copeland suggests, could become even more acute when faced with many people’s number one Internet pasttime: Hanging out on Facebook. Like she says:

Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one’s assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.)

My first reaction to this article was to agree with Copeland. It is hardly arguable that, if you pay attention, people indeed “like” your stuff more if you talk about accomplishments rather than hardships, if you share funny YouTube videos instead of a serious editorial from The Atlantic, and if you post pictures of you and your friends having fun rather than images of protests.

There were two groups in particular that Copeland identified as being more prone to comparing themselves to other Facebook friends and getting depressed (I am not part of either of these groups, so I will just relate the information and let you guys battle it out in the comments):

1. Parents, because they will instinctively show their good side on Facebook – they’re proud of their family and want to set a good example for their kids, who they are often friends with.
2. Women, because they tend to be more active on Facebook and post more personal stuff on their profiles. They might therefore be more drawn to comparing themselves to others, and take those lives as truthful representations.

But don’t we also enjoy reading rants from friends who love to complain? Like the ones who just tell it like it is on their status updates, and the sarcastic or catty string of comments that might ensue after a controversial link is posted on a friend’s wall? Don’t we join groups of things and people we hate? Sure, Facebook is inherently a place to socialize, so if you aren’t feeling like socializing — like if you are sad or sick or simply apathetic — you probably won’t post stuff for all your friends to see. At most, you’ll limit yourself to chatting or sending a message to someone.

I don’t think, however, that Copeland is saying that Facebook should become a place where everyone reflects their complete, natural selves. Rather, it is up to us to learn how to take stuff people post with a grain of salt, and also “learn” how to better interpret and curate our own experience on the social network.

Does seeing other people having fun on Facebook sometimes get you down? Are you someone who discloses not only the pretty but also the ugly on your profile? How do your friends take it when you?

Honestly, I’d have to answer: (1) yes, (2) oh yes, and (3) for the most part they smile politely, but sometimes I do get emails from people saying they’re so happy they’re not the only ones feeling the same way about something, which makes me feel better too!

I find for me it’s been especially difficult to handle Facebook because it triggers depression and mood extremes in me. I will go on a high when I’m in touch with my friends and conversing back and forth. But at the same time I am very isolated in the real world and lead a quiet life at home. So to read a constant influx of posts about other people and the quality time being spent connecting with family and friends creates an unpleasant reminder for me of what I am lacking in my own life. And, honestly, it doesn’t feel good realizing you’ve become the little black cloud raining on everyone’s parade.

I noticed that I was spiralling into a low, just because of the stark contrast in tone between my own posts and those on my friends list. And because I’m pregnant, I wanted to avoid any sort of medication at ALL costs – this includes my antidepressant/anti-anxiety meds. So I decided to see what else I could try that might help. Taking a Facebook hiatus started out as being experimental, as I know I have a tendency to compare myself to others, and that I often walk away from my news feed feeling empty and dispondent.

Immediately I felt a huge difference!

I also became aware that I was completely out of the loop now too, and that Facebook had been my only means of staying up to date with everyone – even if 90% of the information I found out was through groups of people commenting amongst each other and not directly with me. But the benefits of not being miserable all day around my family at home FAR outweighed all of that. And I have found that this allows me to instead keep in touch with close friends and family on a more one-on-one basis, which provides me with the happy feeling of connecting with another human being rather than watching from the outside.

I’ve always been one of those people who has felt a strong disconnect between themselves and the rest of the world. Didn’t grow up with a whole lot of family and relatives surrounding me, aside from my parents. And my small circle of friends has all but faded away since our days at grade school. So it’s hard when you’ve spent your entire life desperately wanting to be a part of something, for there to be a group of people to whom you feel you truly BELONG (e.g.: those who surround you on holidays and special occasions); rather than always feeling like you’re tagging along, hoping to be included, and wouldn’t be missed. But it’s never worked out that way – whether that is due to my own anxieties and neuroses holding me back, or just the regular complexities of life (i.e.: having a toddler that is extremely sensitive to his surroundings and changes to his routine, or the fact that my own relatives ARE all overseas..).

But now that I’ve pinpointed my ‘triggers’, and have come to understand them better, I have something I can work around AND still keep in touch. I just had Facebook birthday notifications set up to be sent to my inbox, so I can still pop in from time to time and wish family and friends a happy birthday on their special day. I just know I can no longer allow myself to get into that habit of constantly checking my news feed, as it inevitably ends in bad feelings.

I have instead started up a new Twitter account, where I can babble away to my heart’s content throughout the day, and of course my LiveJournal blogging as well. So I’m still finding PLENTY of ways to enjoy myself on social networks online! :)


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