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Just a few weeks ago, Facebook had 1 billion people logging in on the same day. That’s huge! But many of those might not be aware that every recent study about the giant social network says it might be making you feel bad about yourself. You need to know how to use Facebook in a healthy way if you want to avoid this.

Facebook’s potential as a trigger for depressive symptoms has been talked about in the past too, but this year has seen more of such studies than before. Behaviorists and social scientists are now narrowing down the root cause – and how to tackle it.

The Problem Is Envy

An office worker goes onto an online search engine for advice on depression.

All the studies this year agree that the crux of the issue is envy and boastful posts. Looking at others doing well on Facebook makes us think they don’t have the problems or failures we do.

“If Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship — things that cause envy among users — use of the site can lead to feelings of depression,” says Margaret Duffy, a professor and chair of strategic communication at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Journalism, who conducted a survey of college students for their study published in Computers in Human Behavior.

University of Houston (UH) researcher Mai-Ly Steers is more cautious with her wording, and doesn’t want to blame Facebook at large. In her research paper in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, she specifies that these findings don’t mean Facebook itself is causing depression, but that depressed feelings, social comparison, and time spent on Facebook go hand-in-hand.

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The studies note that the social comparison can occur in different ways. For example, you might have thought of someone as a peer, but seeing them do better than you on Facebook elicits envy. Among women, body satisfaction level of non-Facebook users was higher than Facebook users.

Facebook-scrabble-tiles

It’s correlation, not causation. And such studies are nothing new. Back in 1998, the famous HomeNet study drew a link between more time spent online and depression. It came under severe criticism from scholars for suggesting causation, but the correlation has been noted in several studies after that. We’ve also noted how the Internet can give support against depression Depression & The Internet: Welcome To Your Temporary Support Group Depression & The Internet: Welcome To Your Temporary Support Group Talking is important, and sometimes the Internet is a good substitute when your real life friends aren't around. Here are three sites I recommend for less formal depression-focused conversations. Read More .

As for Facebook’s link with depressive symptoms, more and more studies are finding a similar correlation. Charlotte Blease, a cognitive scientist and philosopher of medicine, has reviewed several of these Facebook studies and written a scholarly article on it. Blease argues that Facebook users are more likely to suffer from depression when:

  1. They have more online ‘friends’;
  2. The greater the time spent reading updates from this wide pool of friends;
  3. The more frequently the user reads these updates; and
  4. The content of the updates tends to a bragging nature.

“It Won’t Happen To Me” Is a Big, Fat Lie

Facebook-goggles

The most dangerous part of these findings is that most of us think it won’t happen to us. “I have a positive mindset, I’m not depressed,” we tell ourselves. News flash: you’re deluding yourself and leaving yourself at a major risk of falling for the negative effects of Facebook use.

“According to optimistic bias, Facebook users may perceive that bad things are more likely to happen to others than to themselves, while good things are more likely to happen to them than to others,” notes a new study. “The findings from an online survey among Facebook users indicate that the negative psychological and social outcomes of using Facebook were perceived to be more likely to happen to other Facebook users than to themselves.”

The study is a warning for Facebook users with an optimistic bias – i.e. those who thought they had a healthy outlook and were generally positive. Such users tend to think cyberbullying, depression, and other negative effects of Facebook use are likely to happen to others, not to themselves.

Facebook-like-dislike

However, the study authors warn that this is wishful thinking and it leaves such Facebook users vulnerable to “the negative realities of social media”.

And if you think you’re immune to social comparison, think again. Whether you realize it or not, multiple studies and study authors claim you are comparing yourself to your friends. And that’s partly because of Facebook’s nature.

“Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” says Steers. “You can’t really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post.”

How to Fight Against Facebook Depression

The good news is that these factors and symptoms are beatable. With a few simple steps, you can tackle this problem and browse the social network in healthy ways.

Knowing Is Half the battle

Facebook-connect-and-share-browser

As with most things, acceptance is the first and most important thing. You’ll never really give up on Facebook 4 Reasons We'll Never Really Want To Give Up Facebook 4 Reasons We'll Never Really Want To Give Up Facebook Facebook is changing human psychology. And that's why it's going to stay with us. For a very long time. Read More , but you need to acknowledge that you are vulnerable to Facebook envy and be self-aware about your feelings.

“Users should be self-aware that positive self-presentation is an important motivation in using social media, so it is to be expected that many users would only post positive things about themselves. This self-awareness, hopefully, can lessen feelings of envy,” said Edson C. Tandoc, who worked with Duffy on her research.

Realize You’re Seeing “Highlight Reels”

facebook-like-me-highlight-reel

The act of Facebook-based comparisons is inherently flawed, when you think about it. People tend to post positive thoughts and experiences on Facebook because Facebook is geared to be about showing your greatest hits. It’s why Facebook won’t have a Dislike button The Media Lied to You: It's Not a Facebook "Dislike" Button at All The Media Lied to You: It's Not a Facebook "Dislike" Button at All The world is on fire with rumors of Facebook recently announcing a "dislike button". But it won't be a "dislike" button at all. It will be something much more than that. Read More , no matter what the rumors say.

“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,” says Steers.

Don’t Browse Facebook When You’re Alone or Lonely

Facebook-photos-3d

Facebook is about the people, so you are probably going to visit it when you don’t have people around you. However, doing that actually leaves you more susceptible to Facebook envy and social comparisons.

“If Facebook use tends to occur when individuals are alone (perhaps when otherwise engaged in work, study, or solitary home Internet use), the social comparisons triggered by Facebook may be heightened — in such scenarios, the user logs onto Facebook and observes the evidence of the successes, busy social lives, and activities of other members,” writes Blease.

Basically, since you can’t see social support around you, your brain finds it difficult to make a fair comparison with the seemingly happy highlight reels of those on Facebook. It kind of explains why introverts love Facebook and extroverts hate it Introverts Love Facebook and Extroverts Hate It. Here's Why. Introverts Love Facebook and Extroverts Hate It. Here's Why. Do you love Facebook? If you do, there's an excellent chance that you're an introvert. If you hate Facebook, you could be an extrovert. Read More . Yes, it seems like counter-productive usage of Facebook, but you need to make a conscious effort not to browse Facebook when you’re alone or feeling lonely.

Seek Help, See a Therapist

An employee speaks to a fellow employee about her depression.

No, you don’t always know yourself better than a medical professional. If you think you are susceptible to depressive feelings due to Facebook, that can be a sign of needing therapy. Seek out a counselor or psychotherapist and talk to them. Don’t be a hero and diagnose yourself.

Be Honest With Yourself and Share This

The solution isn’t telling people to avoid Facebook – it’s a great social network. But people need to be more aware of its inherent perils. Share this article on your wall and ask people if they have felt Facebook envy before. I know I have… have you?

Image Credits: Simon / Pixabay, geralt / Pixabay, Firmbee / Pixabay, geralt (2) / Pixabay, geralt (3) / Pixabay, geralt (4) / Pixabay

  1. Cotswold
    October 25, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    I don't think Facebook leaving you depressed is just about envy. Reading through endless pleas for donations for sad causes or articles on refugees and suffering can leave you feeling overwhelmed with the world situation and powerless to do anything about it.

  2. Jamal Mahmoud
    August 5, 2016 at 1:06 am

    Is there a plethora of research that shows that many people utilizing Facebook are jealous? I think social scientists might find out that social networks can increase mental disorders. Particularly, the social websites that make us lazy.

    Or is it that humans are naturally evil? Or we cannot stand the fact that someone is doing better than us. Individuals have been fortunate, and many are privilege, but it does not give them the right to gloat about it. I think people just need to respect social networks as platforms and imagine that they are socializing face to face. Not post any comments that will have some form of ramifications.

    Charlotte Blease argues that people are more likely to suffer from depression; when they have more friends online. When they have time to read content, and when they brag about the things they have. These are large claims to make. I believe in a society like the United States that promotes individualism can create big egos. People like to show off, maybe it's insecurity, perhaps that have something to prove. Who knows what the real intentions are? If people do not like a person, it's easy to befriend them.

    Off course people are going to visit FB when they are alone. That is the best time, why would anyone want to get on a social network? Especially, when there are real human beings roaming and sharing the same space (i.e., a get together). I would think that it would be rude to interact with someone, and that person is on their phone with their FB app open.

    Here is a short article I wrote on FB, and how it can be detrimental to our mental and physical health.

    http://www.gymhub.com/my-butt-got-bigger-using-fat-facebook/

  3. Roger Oveur
    October 27, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Simple solution: Quit Facebook and tell the culture of narcissism to fack off.

    • Mihir Patkar
      October 31, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Unfortunately, I don't think it's that easy to quit Facebook, and it has several benefits. The onus, imo, is on the user to be aware of the negatives of FB and mindfully sidestep those.

  4. Philip Bates
    October 22, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    One thing that does depress me about social media in general is the negativity. It's just exaggerated online greatly - so much so that it appears nothing is respected.

    I was reading about Andy Parson leaving Mock the Week the other day. He's spent a decade of his life trying to entertain. He's not offended anyone, he's not malicious, and he's not on every show ever so you're just sick of his face. He's just leaving a job that's he's done for 10 years. You'd think some of the comments would be favourable; instead, there were far too many people going, "good, he's awful" or "never makes me laugh". That old saying "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" doesn't apply to online and that's a very sad thought.

    • Mihir Patkar
      October 31, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Couldn't agree with you more, Philip. Anonymity gives us a lot more courage to be jackasses, doesn't it?

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