4 Ways That Facebook Is Causing Mental Health Issues
The Facebook Bubble
We are all guilty of indulging in a little bit of Facebook pie on occasion. Some people more than others, but, still, we can all relate to the feeling of being in the Facebook bubble. A place where we seem to be so connected to our friends that live on the other side of the country because we see their posts every day. We feel as though we know what's going on in their lives based on their daily blurbs or pictures that we see scrolling down through our news feeds. However, have you ever actually taken a step back and questioned that perspective? Do you even realize how incredibly naive it is to feel like we know someone so well just because of a 2 sentence post and a few pictures posted once a day or a few times per week?
Social media is so prevalent in our world today that it's almost hard to imagine what life would be like without it. Advertisers use social media to sell their products. Businesses use social media to develop their business strategies. Investors scroll social media to watch for trends. Not only is social media a place where we can see pictures of friends that we knew in high school, but it's all really big business these days. Maybe that is the reason why no one has started to warn of the effects that it is having on our society as a whole.
As a medical professional, I am all too sensitive to the psychological impact that this type of industry can have on individuals and on society as a whole. Without social media, our world would be a much different type of place. Sure, social media has its benefits. However, as with anything, moderation is key. It's not all good. In fact, a lot of it can be very bad for a lot of people. Just as alcohol isn't good for someone prone to addiction and alcoholism, social media isn't good for some people. However, it's not regulated. You don't have to show your ID before you log into your social media accounts or go to your local bar to indulge in social media. It's all done from your personal cell phone that you have with you 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. In fact, you probably even sleep with your phone right beside your head as it the world was going to end if you didn't hear the buzz from someone posting on your feed.
In 2017, I started to really pay attention to the way that social media made me feel. I was concerned about the impact that it would have on my pre-teens as they started using these sites to communicate with the world around them. This started me on an unexpected adventure of discovery. I was surprised about the way I felt when I started looking at social media differently and how it impacted me when I started being conscious of the ways that I interacted with the world around me through social media. I would like to share with you some of the results of this eye-opening experience.
Number 1: Social Media Anxiety
I can already hear the giggles in the back. Yes, I said, Social Media Anxiety, and, it's a real thing. Before you start questioning the sub-heading that I used for this section, let me show you where I am coming from. The DSM-5 is a diagnostic manual for psychiatric disorders. It is updated periodically and is currently on the 5th version. In this manual, there is a list of all of the psychiatric diagnoses that someone could potentially have. In this manual, there is a diagnosis of Disordered Social Media User. If you've ever heard of social anxiety, it's actually somewhat similar.
A Social Media Disorder is a condition in which the person has anxiety when they are not able to check their social media accounts for a period of time or when they try to stop using social media accounts altogether for any length of time. It is a pattern of behaviors that is similar to that of an addiction, including inability to stop using, denial that there is a problem, significant disruption of daily functioning as a result of use, and excessive over-use as compared to the average person.
Some people have a greater tendency to over-use social media. We all know those people who seem to post everything on their social media accounts from what they eat for breakfast to what they think about current events to what television shows they are watching. These are the people who are more likely to have a social media use disorder, and, it's no laughing matter.
The fact that social media is causing a clinical type of anxiety is actually quite scary. We so freely indulge in all that social media has to offer and even allow our children to use social media accounts. Are we actually doing more damage than good to our psyche?
In my own experience, I didn't have a problem quitting "cold turkey." I was able to completely stop using Facebook and Twitter, and Pinterest without any type of vagal reaction or twinge in my gut. I guess I don't have a social media disorder. However, as I thought about kids growing up who have a social media disorder, I thought about how tragic this could be for them. In the same way as Mothers Against Drunk Driving was formed, I considered starting a movement, "Mothers Against Social Media." How silly does that sound? However, if we are actually causing our kids to have an anxiety disorder that could potentially affect their ability to function in the world around them, isn't it our job to stop this? Rage against the institution that is big business, I guess.
Social Media Disorder
A condition in which a person has anxiety when they are not able to check their social media accounts for a period of time or when they try to stop using social media accounts altogether for any length of time. It is a pattern of behaviors that is similar to that of an addiction, including:
- Inability to stop using
- Denial that there is a problem
- Significant disruption of daily functioning as a result of use
- Excessive over-use as compared to the average person.
Number 2: Living Through The Camera Lens
When I stopped using my social media accounts, I was most surprised by one thing. And that was how much less I relied on my camera during social events, sport games, and outings. I started to have significantly less pictures of these things in my camera's storage vault. It was enlightening to start seeing my kids' games from my own point of view instead of considering what was the best vantage point for a social media picture or video.
Yes, less pictures and videos could be less than ideal when we are trying to document the lives of our kids. However, with less pictures comes less time spent trying to get the perfect shot and more time spent actually experiencing the game or event.
In my experience, when I stopped using social media, I started to develop different priorities for the things that I previously thought were important. As a social media user, I constantly posted pictures of my kids. Anything from them getting on the bus to them singing their favorite song to them doing their cheerleading dance could be found on my social media accounts. However, once I stopped using social media, I found that instead of snapping a picture or taking a video, I was living the moments with them.
I would join in with them in singing their favorite song. I would wave goodbye to them as they got on the bus. And, when they were cheerleading, I was clapping and cheering in my own seat. All of these things aren't possible if I'm tying to get the perfect picture or video.
I would encourage everyone out there to give this a try. Put away your camera or your phone and be present in the moment. Instead of getting the perfect picture, try to have a perfect moment with your loved ones and friends.
Put away your camera or your phone and be present. Experiencing the perfect moment with your loved ones is so much more precious than getting the perfect picture of them in these moments.
Number 3: Unfounded Jealousies
Another very important topic to discuss is the topic of unfounded jealousies. When you log in to your social media account and scroll through your news feed, it's likely that you will see your college friends on some expensive yacht vacationing in Bora Bora. Or you will see you high school friends talking about their new house or new car or fancy new job. It's also likely that you will see pictures of old friends looking fantastic. It's important that we take all of these things in context. These are their most special pictures and most special moments that they are sharing.
No one is going to go on social media and scream out to all their friends that they are going through bankruptcy or that they are getting a divorce or that they got fired from their job. These things are typically absent from the social media news feeds. However, it doesn't mean that they aren't happening.
Take this example. One of my friends from high school moved to Tampa, Florida after she graduated from college in New York. We had lost touch over the years and our only point of connection was our Facebook accounts. I would see pictures of her lavish life in Tampa with the fancy nights out to bars and restaurants when she was dressed up with her hair and make up done. I would see posts about her apparent really important job working in software development. I thought to myself, "Wow, she really is living a successful and fulfilled life." I was happy for her.
When she called me because she was in town visiting with family, I agreed to meet with her. We met for coffee and I was expecting to see this put-together, professional, and grown up woman. However, she was actually completely opposite from that. She was in tears before she even got through the door to greet me. Despite the fact that her social media account bragged about her being successful and happy, she told me about how unhappy her life really was. She was sad that she had never found a boyfriend and that she was still not married. Those nights out were nothing more than her attempt to get out there and get a husband. And that job that seemed so perfect was actually quite stressful for her. Her boss was demanding, cold, and unforgiving, and she was working 60+ hours a week. The pictures that she posted of her fancy apartment were just pictures of an apartment that she was renting for $3,000 a month and could barely afford to pay for.
From this example, it's clear to see that our social media accounts don't give us the whole story. When I went onto social media, I would constantly compare my life to the lives of the people that I once knew or to my family. When we do this, it creates anxiety and depression. Everyone has a really good day or something really cool to make a post about. However, that doesn't mean that their life is perfect. It is these unfounded jealousies that we start having when we scroll through our news feed that could negatively impact our emotional state. Yes, it may be motivating to see your friends who appear to be more successful and more happy than you, but it's also what creates anxiety.
Number 4: Cyber Bullying
Cyber bullying is something that most everyone has now heard of. This is a new term that developed over the last 40 years as online communication became available. Cyber bullying can be defined as the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.
Bullying has always been an issue in society. It typically is done by a person or group of people who feel like they have more power than their victims and want to demonstrate or test that power. A bully is someone who acts by intimidating their victims in order to gain influence over them or to get them to do what they want. Bullying can involve multiple different types of behaviors, including:
- Spreading false rumors
- Social exclusion
- Physical assault, such as kicking, punching, pushing, pinching
- Damaging property
- Mimicking unkindly
- Damaging someone's reputation
The above are some of the more prevalent examples of bullying, but bullying can take many different forms. There is physical bullying, verbal bullying, social bullying, and cyber-bulling. Although the topic of bullying encompasses all of these things, I would like to focus on the type of bullying that is done through social media.
In my opinion cyber-bulling is extremely damaging to the victim of that bullying. Things that are put onto social media or on the internet can be permanent in some cases, which can lead to long term damage to a person's reputation. There is a lack of accountability in some cases when social media is used for cyberbullying. The bullies can choose to remain anonymous and still do significant damage to their victim's self-esteem, reputation, and emotional psyche.
Social media is used all too frequently to bully others. In a way, it's almost easier for a person to do this over social media because they are not face to face with their victims. This causes some degree of depersonalization of that victim. If a person were being bullied at school, for example, the aggressor would be forced to watch their victim's response to their behavior. However, with social media, that aspect is removed. The victim's response is absent from the mind of the person doing the bullying because they aren't in front of them as they engage in the behavior.
This can be extremely damaging. For teens and young adults whose lives are so entangled in their social media accounts, a bad comment on a news feed or on someone's page can cause depression, anxiety, social isolation, and, in some cases, even suicide.
This is why I think it is so important to teach our youth that any post that they make on a social media account or on the internet should include something that they would say in front of the person to whom they are writing to or about. I constantly stress the importance of this with my kids. We need to be socially responsible for what we put on the internet just as we are socially responsible to how we behave in public and in front of others.
The use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.
As you can see from the 4 examples that I provided above, social media is causing significant social and psychological issues in our society today. In the same way that we have laws and social standards guiding how we behave in public, I believe that it is just as important to have these standard when using the internet and social media. I try to do my part by encouraging my kids to act responsibly when they use social media and by encouraging others to do the same.
If you have any comments about this article, I would love to hear from you! Please leave your comments below.
© 2018 Kortney T