There has been much debate within the mental health community about the link between social media and depression. Certainly, over the last few years there have been a number of high profile cases of online bullying or “trolling” – some of which have made the lives of the victim so unbearable that they have led to suicide.
Recently, in a clinical report issued by the American Academy of Paediatrics entitled “The Impact of Social Media Use on Children, Adolescents and Families” warned that social networking sites can help to fuel depression in teenagers, and that overuse can result in “social network anxiety”.
“Researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called ‘Facebook depression’, defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression….The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents…preadolescents and adolescents who suffer Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky internet sites and blogs for ‘help’ that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive, self destructive behaviours.”
Cyberbullying is also cited as a cause for concern, particularly amongst teenagers, and there have been a number of cases in the media recently showing that celebrities are now also being widely targeted, some of which have resulted in prosecution.
However, this is far from the only perspective. In a recent article in The Guardian, Dr Tim Anstiss makes a link between social media and the support of those suffering with depression. In the article Anstiss states that social networks allow people with similar problems to communicate, helping them to realise they are not alone and talk through their problems.
“Online chat, discussion and support provides many other benefits to depressed people – feelings of connectedness, not being judged, reassurance that things can and do get better over time, or that the painful or empty feelings of depression can be tolerated…Social networks have emerged as an accessible platform on which people are able to connect with like-minded individuals.”
However, he does go on to warn that
“While it is important that those with depression have a safe haven in which to share their issues with a trusted community, making use of the more mainstream sites of Facebook and Twitter may amplify previously hidden anguish. It brings conversations about depression out into the public sphere where information then has the potential to trickle down to people who have little understanding of the illness and also those who may not realise that they too are suffering.”
If you feel that you are suffering from depression, The Post Secret Community is a great online forum containing a wealth of information and support for mental health issues, and www.cyberbullying.org has useful advice for victims of cyberbullies.