In 2009, a study was released suggesting Facebook caused girls to become depressed. Pediatricians warned parents to limit social media access as well as usage time, which at the time seemed logical. But Facebook, as well as Twitter, have continued to grow and so has the population that uses them. The newest research about depression and social media is complicated, and Twitter is gaining attention in regards to depression. With Twitter’s popularity it has become the platform to communicate every thought an individual has and therefore may have more immediate influence on the user’s mood. Researchers at the University of Vermont analyzed the “happiness level” of more than 46 billion words written by 63 million people on Twitter around the world. Good moods and optimism are on the decline.
The majority of Tweets, as well as Facebook postings, are timed and dated, and you can clearly document the mood shift as events happen. Divorces between well-known Hollywood couples, fires, and accidents leave Twitter followers feeling depressed, as do announcements of deaths of celebrities. Twitter followers develop a personal concern to celebrities, as well as others’ lives, that they don’t have in real life, making them more vulnerable to mood changes. Facebook posts have photos of loved ones in hospital rooms, as well as other personal information, that no one should see let alone their followers. Watching others deteriorate, reading hateful posts or seeing gruesome pictures of people you follow can lead to depression, especially if social media is your life.
A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, which studied 19 to 32 year olds, noted that those who checked their Facebook as well as Twitter more frequently throughout the week were 2.7 times more likely to develop depression than those who checked less often. Individuals who checked their social media 61 minutes each day and visiting 30 times per week of all ages had higher indicators of depression. A study from the UK focused on anxiety surveyed Facebook and Twitter users found that 53% of the participants reported their behavior had changed, and 51% percent of those said their change had been negative.
The complicating part of social media research is that social media can help alleviate depression and loneliness. It gives the user access to people they normally wouldn’t have, and can work to connect them, motivate them and make them feel valued.
How do you benefit from the positive effects of Facebook and Twitter, but avoid the negative?
- Just as negative postings are contagious, positive ones are too. Share the positive postings with friends.
- Limit your usage, especially at night, because nighttime usage disrupts sleep cycles and makes it more difficult to go to sleep. Lack of sleep causes depression and anxiety.
- Encourage your children, as well as your family, to limit usage. Twitter nor Facebook are going to go away, so it’s up to users to get a life outside.
- The urgency to check in with social media seems to be one of the main problems. Therefore, begin to limit your check-in times to 2 or 3 times a day. This will help you to feel more in control rather than controlled.
Social media is not going away, nor should it. It has helped families stay connected, alleviate depression and loneliness and led to educational advancements. However, when you no longer have a real life, real friends or real passions of your own, social media will bring you down.