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Social Media Making You Depressed?

Here's what you can do about it.

By Lauren Ray, LPCA | Behavioral Health Clinician at Mindsight Richmond

Have you ever considered how social media affects your mental health?

There is compelling evidence that our phones, tablets, and computers are making us seriously unhappy. Depression is highly prevalent in the U.S., and that prevalence is only increasing. Take this into account: 90% of adults use social media at least once a day. Many factors contribute to depression, but many new studies indicate that social media definitely contributes to psychological well-being (O’Keefe & Pearson, 2011).

There is an actual term, “Facebook Depression,” which refers to depression that develops when one spends a great deal of time on social media and then begins to exhibit classic symptoms of depression (O’Keefe & Pearson, 2011). Isolation, lack of interest in things you used to love, fatigue, feelings of unworthiness…have you ever felt any of these things after an extended scrolling session on your phone?

We are spending so much time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat that these sites are shaping our identity and what we perceive as normal. We’re looking at photos and videos of rich, famous, fit, airbrushed friends and strangers and comparing our reality to their highlight reel. This is having a really negative effect on our mental health.

There are many research studies that discuss the negative impact of social media on mental health. Lin et al (2016) noted a “strong and significant correlation between social media use and depression in a nationally representative sample of U.S. young adults.” People are experiencing declines in subjective mood, well-being, and life satisfaction from being on social media.

Research proves that social media leads to feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives. Highly idealized representations of peers and strangers on social media elicits feelings of envy that may lead to a sense of self-inferiority and eventually, depression. Thinking things such as “I’m not good enough, I’ll never be enough, achieve what they’ve achieved, my life is lame compared to theirs” takes us to a pretty low place, right?

Individuals who use social media are likely to experience rumination and guilt for spending so much time online, while also feeling compelled to continue the cycle due to low self-esteem. So, we feel extremely guilty for all the time we’ve spend on social media and we focus on that, causing us to have lower self-esteem and perpetuating the cycle, even though we know it’s making us feel worse (Lin et al, 2016). THIS is the “Facebook Depression” that was mentioned earlier.

More Research Tidbits: Social Media & Mental Health

Increased social media exposure may increase risk of cyber-bullying, which can also lead to depression.

Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”

Today’s teens are going to fewer parties and spending less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it.

Accordingly, the number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups. Like the increase in loneliness, the upswing in feeling left out has been swift and significant.

There’s not a single exception.

The more time that is spent looking at screens, the more likely people are to report symptoms of depression. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness. (Lin et al, 2016)


Moving Forward

So as we can see, social media can have a pretty negative impact on our mental health, and the research suggests it may be hurting us more than it’s helping us. This information then begs the question: what are we going to do with what we know?

While it may be possible for some, it’s probably not realistic for most of us to quit cold turkey and cut out social media altogether (although if you think you CAN do it, I encourage you to try it and see how it feels!). Some mild boundary-setting can keep you-or your children-from falling into harmful habits. The main purpose of these boundaries is to regain a sense of personal control. Let’s get into some ideas for healthy boundaries to sleep better and spend less time on your phone.

Healthy Social Media Usage: Getting Better Sleep and Setting Boundaries


Two national surveys show that teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 28 percent more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep than those who spend fewer than three hours, and teens who visit social-media sites every day are 19 percent more likely to be sleep deprived. Additionally, children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day (Twenge, 2017).

Significant effects on both mental health and sleep time appear after two or more hours a day on electronic devices. The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices (Twenge, 2017).

Boundaries for sleep:

Instead of spending hours on your phone before bed, read books and magazines to help you wind down at night.

Put an alarm clock by your bed instead of your phone. This makes you less likely to reach for your phone.

Begin winding down at least two hours before bedtime: dim the lights, do some light reading, listen to relaxing music, and watch non-violent, non-intense TV shows.