Why Social Media Causes Depression: Staying Mentally Healthy Online

7 minute read

Social media in its many forms has brought a smile to the faces of billions. What is not to love about having an easy way to stay in touch with far-away loved ones and to make new friends?

Sadly, there is another side to social media that many do not see until it is too late—The world of online connections is no match for real personal contact, and actually causes loneliness and depression. While this may seem like the rant of a cranky Luddite, recent research has begun to back up these claims.

A Deeper Look at Social Media

On the surface Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc., all seem like a great way to maintain connection to others, especially since humans are naturally social beings. However, studies have shown that there is a link between the amount of time spent on social media and risk for depression.

To determine if there is a causal relationship between social media use and depression, studies measured mood before and after periods of time when individuals were engaged with social media platforms. Measures for anxiety, depression, and loneliness were gathered and found that less social media use was correlated to less loneliness and fewer symptoms of depression.

How can it be that platforms designed to bring and keep people together actually harm the mental health of those people? No study has yet to find a specific cause, but the link has been more than proven to exist.

As research continues, it is advised to limit social media use and to make real in-person connections as often as possible. As likeable and popular as social media is, it has a negative and unfriendly effect on your well-being.

If you think of it in a similar way as sugar in your diet, it can help you get a grasp of the usefulness of moderation.

Social Media and Your Mind

Studies have found a specific number of reasons that make social media dangerous to our mental health.

It Is Addictive

Experts have weighed in and report that internet and social media addiction is a real condition. People experience withdrawals and anxiety when they are prevented from checking social media accounts.

Many also begin to neglect their real lives in place of checking online statuses and updating posts. These behaviors are trademarks of an addiction, which makes social media a real problem.

It Triggers Sadness

There is a basic need fulfilled with in-person communication and contact. To physically be in the presence of your friends and family provides a sense of safety and comfort that online connections cannot give you.

On a deeper level, these online relationships remind you of what is missing and cause sadness. Interacting in an online world removes you from the physical world you belong to, and it can eventually cause more social isolation.

While this is true of heavy users in particular, there is data suggesting that social media interaction is better than no socializing at all, particularly among the elderly.

It Causes Unhealthy Thoughts

When you scroll through the posts of those you are following, you see their world (or at least what they want you to see). It can trigger feelings of jealousy and resentment if they have what you want.

Having access to the lives of others on this level pushes us into a trap of judging others and comparing our lives to those we see. You end up in a vicious cycle of negative thinking.

You Only Think You’re Being Social

There always seems to be some drive to get as many followers and likes as you can—the more the better, right? Having thousands of followers can make you think you are popular, at least on the surface, but deep down it only shows how alone you may actually be.

We rely on close personal relationships for support, comfort, and security, and those thousands of followers are not going to be there in the same way when you need them. The more time you spend collecting online friends, the less time you have cultivating meaningful, real, and lasting relationships.

A Social Media Detox

Limiting your time on social media can improve your mood. You do not have to cancel your accounts and avoid these platforms completely, but limiting use is beneficial. In fact there are many ways you can help yourself fight off the problems of depression.

| Related: Why Am I So Lonely? Signs, Symptoms, and What to Do |

Just like giving up smoking or any other addiction, cutting back on social media may be a challenge. It is best to have alternative options in place to keep you from the pull of social media.

Once you detox from social media and limit your use, you will notice several health benefits.

Increased productivity: The temptation of social media distracts us. Each time you hear that notification sound, you are drawn to the phone or tablet to see what changed in the online world.

Turn off notifications and schedule a set time to catch up on the daily social media feed. You will find more time is spent getting things done in your life, and with accomplishment comes improved mood.

Catching up: When you turn off social media and reach out to your friends, you get more face-to-face meetings. Catching up in person and sharing stories, laughs, and tears is more satisfying than reading words and emojis on a screen.

Your relationships can suffer with too much social media use but can easily be rekindled once you do a little social media detox.

Stabilizing mood: Even when you only follow people you like on social media, chances are that throughout the day posts will come across your screen that anger you. Then there are those that make you sad, followed by happy ones, and then more irritating posts.

| Related: How Weekly Volunteering Can Overcome Loneliness and Depression |

The endless exposure of messages can stir too many emotions in a short span of time. Mood changes are linked to irritability, and these can be limited when social media use is also limited.

The Bottom Line

As great as social media is for helping you stay in touch and share memories with people, there are drawbacks. As with all good things, too much can be unhealthy.

Overuse can cause serious changes in your brain and impact your health and well-being, so it is best to monitor use and instead reach out to your loved ones in-person. This will improve health and happiness in one sitting.

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