Social media – consequence or cause of depression?

We probably all feel caught out when we are once again advised to limit our screen time for the sake of our mental health. Whether it’s on the train on the way to work, eating during a lunch break or in the evening before going to bed – Germans spend around three and a half hours on social media every day. Three and a half hours in a world full of pictures of the most beautiful places in the world, the best trained bodies and the most exciting activities. The comparison with one’s own person and life situation can sometimes lead to dejection and a depressed mood. But why is this so and what can we do to prevent it from happening in the first place?

Social media – addiction potential to go

Social media are fast-moving and constantly changing. The fear of missing out and not having one’s finger on the pulse continues to rise – and with it, the amount of time spent using it. In Germany, around 90 percent of people over 14 are regularly active on social media. People under thirty spend a particularly large amount of time online. The Facebook, Instagram and YouTube platforms are particularly popular. From fitness, fashion or travel, to tips on self-fulfillment and financial success, the range of content seems limitless. With millions of new videos, stories, reels and images appearing daily, there’s something for everyone. No wonder it’s so hard not to get caught up in the social media bubble

Negative effects on our psyche

The enormous importance that social media already has in our lives suggests that there are a number of factors that can be detrimental to our mental health:

Social comparison: We seek comparison with others in order to better assess ourselves. In principle, this is not a bad thing, but it is easy to forget that social media put a filter on reality. The constant confrontation with flawless bodies and boundless success can lead to self-doubt and a distorted self-perception as well as increased pressure to perform. Everyone who is active on social media now has an enormous amount of comparison people at their disposal. It is no longer only possible to follow one’s own family, friends and work colleagues; celebrities and influencers also serve as benchmarks

The time commitment: who has never slumped in front of the screen? The algorithm invites us to watch one video after the next, leaving less and less room for our offline resources. After all, the more time spent online, the less is left for other activities like sports and social contact in real life. There may even be a loss of interest in previous activities

Stimulus overload: The enormous flood of information in social media quickly overwhelms our brain, because it only has a limited capacity for new information. Audiovisual stimuli have a particularly stimulating effect here

The addiction to likes: When our posts are liked or shared and receive positive comments, our body releases happiness hormones. Especially when we have few other sources of positive experiences in real life, these feelings of happiness can quickly become an addiction. It is not uncommon for a loss of control over Internet use to occur, and more and more time and energy is invested in the struggle for recognition there. As with many addictions, a certain tolerance develops over time, so that more and more has to be consumed and even withdrawal symptoms can occur

The social media depression

It becomes clear that the world of media has many factors that have a negative influence on our psyche and can promote the development of mental illnesses. One disease very often linked to social media is depression. It primarily manifests itself in the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Lack of drive
  • Loss of interest
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Sleep disturbances

In bad cases, it can go as far as self-injurious behavior, suicidal thoughts or attempts. Physical complaints such as headaches, muscle tension and appetite disorders can also indicate depression.

What does research say about social media and depression?

For some time now, the connection between the use of social media and depression has been the focus of research. The criteria already mentioned favor the development of such a disease enormously. Most studies agree that the frequency and length of social media use is associated with the risk of depression. They also focus on the effects of social comparisons with other people. In addition, it is assumed that users consume information that matches their mood in particular. This implies that if a person’s mood is already depressed, they are more likely to consume content that matches it, thus leading to a downward spiral

A high number of depressive symptoms are exhibited by individuals who share content on social media very frequently and interact with many other users. Despite the high-frequency communication, loneliness was evident, as these individuals usually invest little time in offline activities. Social media also has an impact on sleep patterns, as users often lie in bed with their laptops or cell phones emitting blue light, which suppresses the hormone melatonin and leads to poorer sleep. Poor or insufficient sleep is not only a symptom of depression, but also a risk factor for health. Another important issue is cyber bullying, which has gained enormous relevance in recent years. Negative comments, insults or the dissemination of embarrassing or hurtful images are still not sufficiently prevented by companies

Important: Seven out of ten young people report having been a victim of cyberbullying at some time. Those affected tend to have poorer school results, depression, anxiety, loneliness and eating disorders

Excursus: Social media as a place for self-help and support

In fact, research to date has done more studies on the risky features of social media in relation to mental health. However, it is also worth broadening our view a bit and looking at some of the opportunities social media offers

Social media stands for the possibility of global networking and information gathering that can be accessed at any time. There are numerous examples of people who report that precisely these opportunities have helped them to overcome their depression. One story of such a sufferer that went viral in 2015 is that of Uwe Hauck. The family father from Baden-Württemberg invented the hashtag #ausderklapse on Twitter and used it to report on his depression, his suicide attempt, the subsequent daily routine in the clinic and the recovery process. Communicating via social media was particularly good for him, because contact with friends and family was difficult for him during this time. The online community gave him a lot of positive feedback and encouraged him. He met countless other sufferers and got the chance to learn from their experiences. Social media can also be used to find like-minded people for one’s own interests and beliefs and thus find and express one’s own identity

Actively counteracting social media depression

In summary, it can be stated that social media offers many risks, but also a few opportunities. For people who are already ill, frequent, active and intensive use can aggravate depression, but the use of social media can also trigger the whole issue in the first place. As is so often the case, it is important to look individually at what level is healthy for you and to what extent the use can support your own health. If you have the feeling that you cannot regulate this on your own, it is always advisable to consult an expert or therapist

Enclosed you will find some strategies that can support you in the short term if you feel that social media has a negative impact on your psyche:

1. use existing resources: Even if the shared content doesn’t get much attention on social media, there are usually still friends and family in the real world who can give it to you

2. Rationalize: Although one’s life may seem so mundane in contrast to the glitzy social media world, it’s important to be aware: Very few people share bad events like breakups, job losses, or conflicts

3. Follow the right content: In addition to the many accounts that appear flawless, many others now exist that champion authenticity and present a much more realistic image

3. determine framework conditions: it is important to reflect whether the daily usage time is good to the extent and to consider in which times of the day and situations a usage makes sense. It is also important to protect yourself from cyberbullying and negative influences and to configure your security settings accordingly

4. take time out: Especially when you realize that social media is not doing you any good, it is high time to not use the apps for a while or even delete them from the device. It is an exciting self-experiment what happens after that. Maybe negative feelings come up? It is important to ask yourself: What do I really need right now? A hug, a time-out, a change…?

  • Deutscher Ärzteverlag GmbH: Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  • Stiftung Deutsche Depressionshilfe: Retrieved 12.07.2022.
  • KONTOR4 GmbH: Retrieved on 10.07.2022.
  • Wolfersdorf, Manfred: Understanding and coping with depression. Berlin, 2011.

Categories: Depression

Verena Klein
Author Verena Klein
"LIMES Schlosskliniken specializes in the treatment of mental and psychosomatic illnesses. With the help of the blog, we as a clinic group would like to examine the various mental illnesses in more detail and present different therapies as well as current topics."

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