How Social Media is Creating False Positive Emotion and depression through Fear of Missing Out? How to deal with it?

How Social Media is Creating False Positive Emotion and depression through Fear of Missing Out? How to deal with it?

Very few people today stay away from social media. Its popularity and impact on the social matrix are undeniable. Along with, the sudden jump of mental disorders among younger adults in recent years has brought to light an obvious question. Is social media contributing to depression?

An experimental study report published in a recent issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology states social media can greatly impact mental health resulting in depression and loneliness. The report also highlights if you are less engaged in social media, less depressed you are. A qualitative shift in overall wellbeing is observed with less usage of social media.

It is equally important to state that the study has found a connection between social media and depression and does not establish a cause-effect relationship. Available facts and findings, however, are strengthening the widespread notion that excessive social media engagement (without any specific cause or objective) is hampering the overall wellbeing of individuals especially the younger generation.

Let us study a few facts and findings:

  • 81% of young adults aged 18-29 years use Facebook. 32% of Instagram users fall in the age group of 18-24 years.
  • Nearly 77% of Americans have a social media profile of some kind.
  • In 2016, approximately 44.7 million adults in the US aged 18 or more had a mental disorder. The prevalence of mental illness is 22.1% in the age group of 18-25% (the highest), 21.1% in adults aged 26-49 years and 14.5% in those aged 50 years or more.
  • “Facebook depression” is a growing concern arising from kids’ social media engagement. Although debatable, The American Academy of Pediatrics defines this as a form of depression resulting from the time spent by teens and preteens on social media finally displaying classic depression symptoms.
  • Researchers attribute ‘social comparison’ as the trigger for depression associated with social media. This comparison often leads to “rumination” or “overthinking”.
  • A psychology professor at San Diego State University found teens spending 5 hours or more online are 71% more likely to develop at least one risk factor for suicide than teens spending only an hour a day online. The risk accelerates with just 2 hours or more spent online.
  • Another study with the US adults found, those visiting any social media platform at least 58 times per week are likely to feel more socially isolated (about 3 times) than those visiting less than 9 times per week.
  • NIH-funded research found people using social media the most are 2.7 times likely to be depressed than the participants with the least social media engagement.
  • Social media-related depression symptoms are higher in girls than boys. A study published by the University College London found 40% of girls spending more than 5 hours a day on social media show signs of depression.
  • Girls with depression are likely to have experienced online harassment more, twice that of the boys.
  • According to a CNN-published report, social media and cyberbullying may affect teenage girls more than boys resulting in a higher suicide rate among girls.
  • Research news published recently in states that quitting Facebook makes people less depressed, more productive and can save money.

Rise in smartphone use and increase in depression rates – Is there any correlation?

  • Higher levels of depressive symptoms in more than half a million 8th to 12th graders were observed between 2010-15 reports a 2017 study. The depressive symptoms increased by 33%.
  • Since the introduction of smartphones in 2007, 92% of teens and young adults in 2015 possessed a smartphone.
  • In the same period, there has been a 30% jump in students seeking help and counseling mainly for depression and anxiety at the college and university counseling centers.
  • In 2015, the suicide rate among American teenagers rose to the highest in 40 years. Interestingly, between 2007 and 2015, digital tech in the form of social media emerged as one of the most dominating social aspects in individuals’ lives mostly that of teenagers.

Why social media, the deemed culprit behind depression?

Effortless interaction missing empathy and true feelings:

Interaction on social media in one sense is effortless. You pick up the device and check social media posts. If needed, you post a comment or reply. This chain goes on. You do all these activities without moving an inch.  Go back twenty years and you see a different picture. You could drop in a friend’s place all of a sudden. There was not always a need to go for a pre-planning session to meet a friend or interact socially.

This is the biggest difference the current generation younger adults are facing than their previous generations. They are seldom meeting their peers in person. They are more inclined to maintaining digital connection courtesy social media.

Experts believe such social interactions on the web are less emotionally satisfying. It makes people more socially isolated than socially connected. It is like more of a disconnection despite the round-the-clock connection.

Where is the welcome smile? A warm hug, a friendly pat on the back and even holding hands – these small physical touches add value to the interaction. It makes you feel belonged. You get connected in a deep empathetic manner.

The FOMO effect:

FOMO or ‘The Fear of Missing Out’ is another serious mental disorder closely associated with social media. It seems to be an extension of social standing and inclusion. Especially,  younger adults are vulnerable to this feeling. Am I being forgotten? This question haunts their minds in every simple instance.

You might be occupied with the feeling of why you were not invited to a party whose post you are seeing on Facebook or Instagram. You might always be struggling not to miss a single post of your friends. In the spree of catching up with endless social media updates, you are prioritizing something that is not emotionally rewarding but is making you feel sad and isolated.

The ubiquitous use of digital technology allows us to gaze into what our peers are doing every day every minute. Experts feel it is not healthy. It gives a feeling to individuals of not living a quality life to get accepted into a certain sphere of the social circle.

How green is the grass on the other side?

Curated lives posted on social media just present a slice of it. It shows less but hides many. Our minds instantly get swept away by glossy visuals while the non-viewed things may have lots to tell. Life throws challenges for everybody but all those trying times and hardships are not displayed on social media.

What is always projected is the rosy side. This creates a false impression. It always makes you feel, life is so good for everybody while for you it sucks! This comparison drives in depression as you are unable to get the view of both sides of life.

Another dangerous consequence of this comparison is seen in teenage girls who always suffer from a poor self-image. More they see filtered images on social media which seem to be prettier, thinner, richer and popular more they get depressed about their self appearance and self-esteem.

Whenever you log in to your social media, you activate a lot of social comparisons which is not good for mental health. According to Oscar Ybarra, the professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, people may not be aware of activation of the comparison button but it happens.

A general assumption is, more an individual uses social media more he/she tends to induce such comparisons that can be related to the decrements of feelings. These comparisons can happen countless times a day depending on the number of times you log in to these platforms

Getting swayed by false positivity:

Influencers using social media platforms spreading false positivity can do harm. Negative emotions and experiences are essential parts of life. Unless you learn to accept both positive and negative experiences, you never grow. Bypassing negative emotions is not a healthy way to be emotionally balanced.

Encouraging a person with clinical depression to focus on positivity will not help but may do harm. It gives the message that the person is at fault being unable to pull him/her out of the depressive feeling.

On the other hand, they are the ones who are into real human experiences than those spreading positive-only vibe on social media. Such fake positivity can induce stigma to mental illness forcing people to declare everything is fine when it is not in reality. Enforced positive vibes on social media can backfire.

Is it tough to beat social media-induced depression?

No, it is not. Just be reducing social media usage, one can improve his/her mental wellbeing a lot. It is not abstinence but judicious usage that matters. Just look at other aspects of life or explore some hidden avenues, you will be overwhelmed with the new revelations.

  • Find out activities that you love to do. It may be reading, sports or art and crafts.
  • Plan in-person meets with friends and peers. Enjoy relaxing hours with them.
  • Turn off smartphone notifications for at least a few hours a day.
  • Delete those apps that induce feelings of inadequacy.
  • Take a day or two off from social media.
  • Monitor your kids’ offline interaction. See that they are more into personal interaction than digital ones.
  • Be a role model in restricted social media usage as a parent. Spend quality time with family and kids so they do not miss digital interactions.
  • Enforce phone-free time a couple of hours before sleep. Use a traditional alarm clock instead of the phone.

It is more of your personality part:

Social media is not bad. It is more of the users’ personality and traits that make it harming. Some users take it as a comparison tool which is concerning. Many use it just to stay in touch with friends. Addiction or overdoing is bad in all aspects and here one has to strike the balance.

Is it purposeful to overload your mind with all meaningless news feeds and shares? Teens’ minds are easily impressionable. They are likely to get easily carried away by glitz and gloss. For them, restricted and cautious use of social media is advocated.

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