When did social media cause depression?

Others' timeline: How do you feel about social media on bad days?


Sunday afternoon fills emptiness. Every activity takes infinite effort. Maybe something has happened on Facebook? The smartphone is close at hand. Just a very quick look at the timeline of the others. Let yourself be fed once more by the news that everyone is so willing to present. To get the confirmation once again how much more interesting and nicer the weekend from others was.

Anyone who regularly uses Facebook, Instagram & Co. has probably already encountered this feeling: the envy of other people's timelines. We know that everyone presents themselves in the best possible light in virtual reality. But what if you are so unhappy yourself that you can no longer make this distinction? That one knows objectively that Facebook posts are not real images of life - but no longer believes this?

Social media and depression - a "soul eater"?

At least that was the case with the journalist Kati Krause when she was stuck in the middle of a depression. Because of her job, she had been on Twitter and Facebook without a break. Much too long, as she says today. Today she talks openly about the reason why one day she radically removed social media apps from her smartphone. She lay passively on the sofa and could no longer pull herself up to anything. Powerlessness is one of the symptoms of depression.

A grip on the smartphone, a look at Facebook, then Twitter and Instagram, and all over again - these were actions within the scope of the possibility. She kept updating her news feeds, but she never found an end. It is very difficult to make decisions during a depressive episode. Therefore, Kati Krause no longer managed to put the cell phone away. Even though it literally caused her pain. Was everyone else really that much happier, had so much more fulfilling lives, experienced so much more, while barely making it from the sofa into the kitchen? The fake communication on social media has "really eaten up her soul".

Envy of the former Facebook self

The knowledge that appearing on social networks has a lot to do with self-expression was of no use to Kati Krause in this situation. She even started to be jealous of her former Facebook self. She used to be one of those people who posted funny sayings and photos that had something to say about everything. Reading her own posts from before or those of others was now the greatest agony. She could no longer post herself - her concentration was insufficient. The very thought of formulating reasonably intelligent signs for the public put them under stress.

Social media as a place for self-help and social support

The computer scientist Uwe Hauck chose a different path: He too had to struggle with depression. At re: publica 2016, he honestly talks about his suicide attempt and how his wife saved his life. Today he is grateful and happy about it. After his suicide attempt, he was admitted to a clinic and treated there. In his networks, his contacts knocked on what was going on, why he hadn't posted anything for days.

He was faced with the decision: should he speak openly about his condition, put on a mask or rather keep silent without explanation? He decided on the open version. In his networks he speaks freely of his depression, while still in the clinic he began to tweet under the hashtag #ausderklapse. At the beginning of 2017 his book “Depression to give up” will appear, with stories from everyday life in psychiatry.

Communicating via social media did him good during the depressive episode, precisely because he couldn't stand personal contact with friends during this phase. In turn, his social networks have become an important support for him. He has received virtual feedback, encouragement and support from his contacts. In this way, he got to know other sufferers and gained the deep conviction that he was not alone with his depression.

Tip: Think carefully about how public you want to make your social media profile

Perhaps that is exactly the crux of the matter: How you look at your own social media presence. Is it public or private? How authentic can you be? How much do you really reveal about yourself? These are questions that everyone has to answer for themselves.

The social media question becomes particularly central for people who are in a depressive episode. How do you want to present yourself in social networks? Do you make the jump or do you get bogged down unnecessarily on other people's profiles? After all, every click potentially leads to another.

What the research says about depression and social media

In fact, a US-funded study in young adults funded by the National Institute for Mental Health found a strong and significant link between increased social media use and depression. The study found that the more time they spent on social media and the more often they visited social media, the levels of depression in the study participants increased. However, it has not been clarified whether the connection has to do with the fact that people with depression spend more time in social networks or whether excessive and uncontrolled use of social media can trigger more depression.

Ultimately, the way you deal with social media is certainly decisive. Those who use the networks for work, in particular, will find it more difficult to drop their virtual protective clothing. Whose Facebook friends are more likely to be networking contacts in real life will think twice about whether they will use this platform to talk about depression, for example. With an average of 350 Facebook friends, it's no wonder that you don't want to reveal your private life in front of every one of them.

The key to happiness: real communication

If the social media use becomes a burden and at the same time does not want to call for the complete cut like Kati Krause, the task is to find a satisfactory way of dealing with the social media channels. A study published in September 2016 by Carnegie Mellon University, among others, came to the conclusion that Facebook can even make people happy when used correctly. The key to happiness lies - as Uwe Hauck describes it - in the experience of social support, in exchange with friends from real life, in the experience of helping.

An encouraging comment or chat with a friend is much more valuable than one-click feedback in the form of a like. Real communication is the key word. Despite all self-portrayal tendencies, such a supportive experience requires an at least halfway authentic presentation on the Internet. Likes alone - the currency of social networks - do not make you happy. Especially not during a depressive episode.