Understanding Facebook Depression And Anxiety

Updated August 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lori Jones, LMHC

It’s amazing to think how quickly an idea like Facebook, which started as recently as 2004, has become such a major part of our society. Facebook has over 2.5 billion active users, and the list continues to grow daily. It was unprecedented that a single social media platform could bring so many people together from across the globe.

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The popularity of Facebook has a lot of people wondering if it has become so much of a good thing that it has actually turned into a bad thing. Some researchers are concerned that people are spending so much time on Facebook that it’s negatively affecting their mental health. Few research studies have been done on Facebook and other social media users. Much more needs to be done to get a clear picture of the relationship between Facebook and the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Enough research has been done to warrant exploring Facebook depression because if there is a strong connection between depression symptoms and Facebook, the implications will be vast.

Early Research On The Internet And Feelings Of Depression

One of the first studies on the impact of the internet on mental health was done in 1998. The researchers found that as people increased the amount of time that they spent online, they spent less time communicating with their family members and socializing with friends. The changes led to increased feelings of depression and loneliness. A few later studies hinted that extended computer use had a negative impact on the development of social skills in children. These studies were performed before the existence of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media networks.

Facebook went online in 2004, and it only took a few years for it to become popular with children and teens. Even as the novelty of Facebook began to wear off, children and teens started to spend even more of their free time on the internet. As they spend more time online, they’re spending less time communicating in person with their families and friends. While it’s true that technology makes it possible for children and teens to interact with much greater numbers of people, the new relationships that they’re developing tend to be shallow and superficial, unlike close and intimate relationships where there is an in-person connection.

Recent Studies On Facebook Depression

In a study of high school students, researchers found a strong correlation between depression symptoms and the amount of time they spent on social media networks. In still another study at the University of Pennsylvania, psychologist Melissa G. Hunt surveyed 504 millennials to understand if there was a connection between social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat and major depressive disorders. Her results showed that individuals that met the DSM criteria for the major depressive disorder had higher scores on the Social Media Addiction scale.

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The results of Hunt’s study also showed that millennials that spent a lot of time on social media often compared themselves to people they felt were better than them. The same individuals also admitted that if someone tagged them in an unflattering picture, it would bother them and that they were less likely than people without feelings of depression to post photos of themselves along with others. In addition, people with major depressive disorder tended to have fewer followers than people without depression.

Hunt’s study also reports that people that drastically decrease the time they spend on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat often saw a notable improvement in feelings of depression and how they felt about their lives. The rates of loneliness decreased significantly for people that spent less time on social media.

In a consecutive study of 143 undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania by Hunt and a team of researchers called, “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” the research team used seven different scales to test the mood and sense of well-being of students in relation to the amount of time they spent on social media sites. The acronym for FOMO refers to the fear of missing out. Half of the participants used social media sites as normal. In contrast, the other half limited their social media site visits to only ten minutes per day for each of the sites for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, which are the most popular sites for this age group. The results showed that students that cut back on social media time had clinically significantly lower rates in feelings of depression and loneliness than the control group, which saw no improvement in their rates of depression and loneliness.

Hunt notes that it’s ironic that lonely and depressed people like to use sites like Facebook because they’re seeking to make more social connections; yet, her study shows that Facebook and other popular social media sites are actually making people lonelier and more depressed.

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One of the questions that Hunt’s study didn’t answer is why social media makes people depressed. Hunt offers up two possible reasons that people may suffer from Facebook depression. The first is that many people only post the best and most positive things about themselves. When people read their timelines, it really reflects a false sense of who they are and how their lives are going, which makes other people feel like their own lives are inferior. Hunt refers to this phenomenon as a “downward social comparison.” The second theory that Hunt has about Facebook depression has to do with FOMO. Students hang out on Facebook and other social media sites because they fear being left out of the loop of social conversations.

Hunt also notes that social media sites have become an integral part of our society, which makes it nearly impossible to cut them out altogether. She feels that the best we can hope for is to encourage people to cut back on the amount of time they spend on social media. She points out that reducing social media usage by just ten minutes every day helps to decrease depression.

Social Media Impacts Individual And Social Welfare

We can learn a bit more about social media and its connection to depression and anxiety by looking at research that was conducted by Stanford University and New York University economists. The team did a survey of 2, 844 Facebook account holders before the 2018 mid-term elections. Over half of the participants were asked to take down their Facebook accounts for four weeks. Their goal was to assess how staying off Facebook would affect their individual and social well-being.

The results indicated that deactivating their Facebook accounts increased their well-being drastically. Participants reported having greater happiness and satisfaction in their lives and decreased feelings of anxiety and depression. In fact, 90% of those surveyed reported that staying off social media accounts had a positive impact on them and that they felt more appreciation for the significance that Facebook played in their lives.

The results of the survey showed that having this knowledge also had an impact on the participants of the survey. Many of them opted to continue staying off Facebook and other forms of social media. Those who reactivated their Facebook accounts reported that they decreased the time they spent on social media platforms by 23% after participating in the study.

Of the ordinary people that chose to deactivate their Facebook accounts, they found that they gained an hour in their schedules every day. They used the extra time in their days to engage in offline activities like watching television or spending time with family and friends. Ultimately, when people took a break from Facebook, they added free time to their schedules and were able to break the habit of constantly pulling up their social media accounts. Also, instead of filling up that time with other types of digital media, they engaged in more meaningful activities.

Before we get too excited about the positive effects of staying off social media sites, the study also highlighted a potentially negative effect of taking a social media break, especially during election time. People that deactivated their social media accounts started to lack knowledge of current events in a broad sense. They tended to know less about current events and politics than when they spend time on social media, and they also spent fewer minutes per day consuming news reports.

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Those who deactivated their social media accounts also reduced some of the polarization that’s engulfed in politics. While some people see this as a positive, the same people also decreased their engagement with hard news.

It bears mentioning that the most recent studies are far from conclusive. Most of the recent studies enlisted participants that are relatively young, well-educated, and political leftists as compared to the average Facebook user. Much more research needs to be done on various age groups and other demographics before we can gain greater clarity on the correlation between Facebook depression and anxiety.

Whether you’re experiencing depression and anxiety because of the amount of time that you’ve been spending on Facebook and other social media sites, or for any other reason, your best bet for finding relief for your symptoms is by scheduling an appointment with a licensed therapist. Social media may be part of the problem or all of the problems. By getting a professional assessment, you’ll be able to get the proper treatment if you need it.

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