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A New Cause of Depression

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a Boston-area pediatrician, as well as other health professionals and researchers, are warning that Facebook and other social media are a source of grief for many vulnerable teenagers. Facebook has become the new place for kids to “hang out,” much like the street corners and shopping malls of our time as kids. The difference is that what kids project on Facebook is an unrealistic, idealized view of what is happening with them. This idealized portrayal of who they are shows up in photographs and in the kinds of things they write. There is a place for people to press the “like” button on the Facebook page, this encourages a strong sense of competitiveness in popularity and the need for approval.

Added to the problems kids experience with this is that Facebook has become a vehicle for cyberbullying, sexting and other mean-spirited expressions of disapproval. All of this encourages kids to make self comparisons and often results in feeling they don’t measure up. Because it’s the internet, rather than at school or the neighborhood, feelings become even more exaggerated than in real life.

Adults:

In my opinion, it is necessary to expand these warnings to include adults as well as kids. Several people have told me that it’s difficult not to compare the number of friends they have as compared to others. Even the cyber games on Facebook and who gets invited and who doesn’t, feeds into feelings of low self esteem and depression.

How to cope:

It’s not enough to state this problem without discussing what can be done about reducing feelings of worthlessness due to social media.

With regard to kids, it’s important for parents to ask questions about what’s happening, particularly with regard to any problems arising on Facebook. It’s important to help kids see how exaggerated and unrealistic things can be on that site. Actually, it’s necessary for parents to discuss all the risks that lurk on the Internet, including falling prey to sexual predators and being aware of the dangers of cyberbullying and sexting.

My advice for adults is to stop Facebook involvement if it has become an unhappy and depressing pursuit. Involvement with real people in the real world is what is therapeutic. If psychotherapy is needed to gain help with depression then, that’s a step that should be taken. Even without therapy, why continue doing something that is a source of misery?

I know many people who have been and continue to be hurt by social media. Adults are also capable of bullying and meanness; it’s not just kids.

What are your experiences and comments about this?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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