Understanding Facebook Depression And Anxiety

Updated March 01, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lori Jones, LMHC

How many times do you think you check Facebook every day? Do you think it’s 15 times? 30? Would you be surprised to hear that that number is actually closer to 100? In fact, we check our phones so often that they have almost become digital versions of our very selves. We check them so often that we probably don’t even recognize it as a conscious or intentional action anymore. And we do it so regularly that our relationships with our phones have begun to dominate our days. A 2016 study conducted by the British consulting firm Deloitte discovered that more than 40% of consumers check their phones within five minutes of waking up. That same study also found that we have trouble putting our phones down; over 30% of phone users check their devices five minutes before going to sleep, and half doing so in the middle of the night. (After all, who hasn’t gotten up to use the restroom in the middle of the night and thought, “I’ll just have a quick look at my notifications!”)

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When we add these numbers up, studies show that the average phone user looks at their phone approximately 47 times a day. But if you’re between the ages of 18-24 year-olds, that number is considerably higher; phone users in this demographic check their digital devices at least 82 times per day. And collectively, US smartphone users check their phones in the aggregate more than 9 billion times per day. Does that sound like a lot yet? If we break those statistics down, you’ll also see that Americans spend an average of four hours per day with their phones, seven days a week. That means that we spend 28 hours a week being consumed by our phones! That’s the same amount of time we’d spend in a pretty busy part-time job!

When you think about it that way, there’s no denying that our phones have a massive impact on our lives. And that’s why it’s vital to understand the impact of social media on our mental health. So, in this article, we’re going to explore the correlation between anxiety, depression, and Facebook.

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 often characterizes our engagement with 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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