Depression is a serious illness that affects many and includes consistent feelings of sadness and even a loss of interest in the things that once brought joy.
We’ve all been there. Something tragic happens or we’re just not feeling like ourselves and would rather spend the weekend lying on the couch binge watching some TV episodes and cutting our communications with the rest of the world. For some of us, this lasts just a day or short time, and then things seemingly return to a ‘normal state’ – for others it’s a more serious condition that requires help from a medical professional.
Now, a study looking deeper into what factors might be leading to these depressed feelings for many has uncovered that having a Facebook (News - Alert) account might be a contributing factor.
It’s hard to get away from something that’s become as important as email to us. Facebook is a place to keep tabs on family, friends, news and more – and it’s all readily available in the palm of our hands wherever we go.
Many people have even revealed that they use their devices and social networking sites while lying in bed at night, as soon as they wake up, while in the bathroom and even while making love.
What happens, according to conclusions from two studies conducted by University of Houston (UH) researcher Mai-Ly Steers, is people start to compare themselves and their lives to the their Facebook friends and what they portray on the social media site.
Add this happening to someone who is already feeling down, has a history of depression or mental illness, and the problem becomes compounded.
The research from the doctoral candidate in social psychology was published as an article in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, "Seeing Everyone Else's Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms” and uncovered how consistently reading highlights from others lives and wanting to be the same or better, creates unrealistic expectations of life and what is ‘quality’.
What many aren’t realizing is that people typically only post a ‘highlight reel’ of the good and happy things, and leave out anything negative.
This is similar to the social comparisons that have already been known to lead to depression in the past. For example, the ways media has presented celebrities for years by airbrushing photos and setting unrealistic expectations on beauty.
Taking a look at the ways online social networks are now also setting up these same feelings for many is something new Steers is creating a conversation around.
Don’t be confused however. Facebook itself is not a cause of depression. Some studies have actually shown how social media sites create hope and happiness for many who otherwise cannot leave their homes or make social connections in person. For example, a way for the elderly to remain in tune with the times and keep in touch with family who may live far away.
But for those who are already at risk for depression, it can bring the illness to the surface – even without people realizing its happening or is the sources of their woes.
"You can't really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post. In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad. If we're comparing ourselves to our friends' 'highlight reels,' this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives," Steers said.
The recommendation? If you find yourself feeling unusually sad, try reducing your Facebook use and find something else that releases stress or that you enjoy doing with your time instead. If you’re still feeling depressed, perhaps hit the ‘deactivate’ button or find friends or professionals who can help and see how it goes.