When Social Media Depression Happens to You

Marissa opened her Facebook page, and saw a picture of her college roommate with her family.  Her college roommate was celebrating her 15th wedding anniversary, and shared a picture of herself and her family on a Disney cruise to the Caribbean, with a hashtag of #itsawonderfullife.  Marissa groaned, and then started to cry.  Not only was she recently divorced, but she could never afford a Disney cruise, let alone a trip to the Caribbean.  She shared custody of her two children with her ex, and struggled to make ends meet.  To make matters worse, things had not been very happy or wonderful in her family relationships this year.

“Where did I go wrong?”  she asked herself.  “My friends have these great, happy lives, and I’m just a failure.”  “I’m overweight, stuck with a lot of bills, and my life really stinks in comparison to everyone else’s.”

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience to Marissa.  Some writers have coined a term, “FOMO” or “Fear of Missing Out,” that they believe happens to people who compare themselves to others on social media, and find themselves lacking. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning that Facebook could trigger depression in children and adolescents, populations that are particularly sensitive to social rejection.

Recent research has found that Facebook users were more at risk of depression when they:

  • Felt envy triggered by observing others
  • Accepted former partners as Facebook friends
  • Made negative social comparisons
  • Made frequent negative status updates

What can you do if you find yourself sad or depressed when viewing others’ social media posts?

Remember that posts are staged

Facebook posts are very brief snippets of people’s lives. Every human being experiences suffering at some time in their life.  One in three people meet criteria for an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.  One in two people consider self-harm.  Most times, these are not the moments that are shared with others on social media.  Many people are selective of how and when they share their moments and memories. Often, people have a hard time admitting that they have difficult feelings, even to themselves.  If you are not always loving life, it is ok.  You are not alone.  Many other people have similar experiences.  However, you likely will not know about them.

Consider what was happening 10 seconds before and after the social media photo was taken

If you are like many families, you may consider a happy family photo a miracle.  Although Marissa’s friend may have been on a Disney cruise, the photo probably didn’t show her immediately after the photo running to change a child’s diaper.  It also didn’t show her right before the photo pleading for her overly busy child to “just sit still for one minute.” Oftentimes, photos can be a happy moment amid chaos.  When traveling, I sometimes find it interesting to watch people take photos.  It is not uncommon for two grumpy people to pose for a selfie, smile, and then return to their grumpy interactions.  We are all human.  But there is a great deal of pressure on people to appear perfect and happy in photos for social media.

Keep it in perspective

Just remember that expensive trips, group photos, and flashy moments do not necessarily equal contentment and happiness. When many of us look back on our lives to search for precious memories, it is often of the small and simple moments. Personally, my happiest childhood memories include playing in the back yard with my sisters, neighbors, and dog. I remember the sunny skies of a perfect summer day, and the feeling a carefree day, with no school for a few more months.  I’m sure those moments of “muddy, but happy” kids (and pets) would not have made many social media pages.

Take it easy on social comparison

Rarely do social comparisons lead to good things. Oftentimes, they increase feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.  When we compare ourselves to others, we base our personal worth based on how we stack up against others.  Instead, remember that happiness is found within.  You may try to construct a series of things that you are grateful for: a job that pays the bills, an education, a values-system, health, and/or the hope of a better day are some examples.  You may even make it a habit to observe gratitude daily.  People who do this are often happier, more energetic, sleep better, and are kinder to others.

Do what matters

All of us have values about who we are and who we want to be in life.  We may value kindness, generosity, or beauty.  Try to identify your values, and consider how you may live by those values. For example, Marissa could wish her friend well in a return Facebook post, and do something kind for someone (like sending a card, phoning a dear friend, or sharing food with the office.) By acting on her values, she is likely to find contentment in her life.  If she also values relationships with others, maybe she could invite a friend for a walk or a cup of coffee.  The more you understand yourself, and act on your values, the more contentment you will find.


David A. Baker, Guillermo Perez Algorta. The Relationship Between Online Social Networking and Depression: A Systematic Review of Quantitative StudiesCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2016; 19 (11): 638 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2016.0206


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