Facebook and mental health

Facebook has been available to the general public since 2006. Since this time there have been many studies on the effects of Facebook on individual’s mental states. There have also been studies on how personality traits can influence internet use. Facebook is a new environment where people can socialize, this space, which is considerably different from face-to-face communication, can have disparate implications.

One of the major arguments people use when criticizing social media is the idea that it might replace real life interactions. However, this concern seems to be ungrounded, as the opposite is more likely to be true. People still engage in face-to-face interactions, and on top of that communicate through the use of an internet connection. Thus the amount spent socializing has actually increased.
Another issue which is often discussed is that Facebook does not mimic a setting close to real life interaction. Which, at face value, is very likely to be true. First of all, the average amount of Facebook friends is 150. This is not just an arbitrary number, this is referred to as the Dunbar number. Based on our cognitive capacities humans are limited to maintaining this number of relationships.
Third, the content that is shared and posted doesn’t always match the discussed content in real life. For instance, people seem to be more likely to share their positive milestones and experiences. Entering such a space, from a hypothetical standpoint, could affect your mental state. People might start to feel like negative emotions or occurrences are unusual, and from this they will infer that something is wrong with them.

Depression
Moreno et al. (2011) looked at depressive symptoms displayed on Facebook profiles of college students. In order to identify these symptoms, they used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is a book used by many different professionals, including psychologists, to recognize mental disorders. For this study, they used the criteria of a major depressive episodeThey found that 25% of the profiles they studied disclosed symptoms of depression. And 2.5% displayed symptoms of an actual major depressive episode. The authors of this article refer to suicide in relation to Facebook being a much talked about topic in the media nowadays. Recently a teen took her own life while broadcasting this using the Facebook Live tool. Because of such events and the fact that Facebook users do sometimes display symptoms online, the researchers opt for identifying those at risk and making sure they receive further clinical evaluation.

Envy
Krasnova et al. looked at envy on Facebook. They asked respondents what kind of reasons others might have for experiencing negative emotions using this social media site. And one of the most picked reasons was envy, or upward social comparison. Afterward the participants had to indicate what exactly could elicit such feelings, with travel and leisure being the top reason. They also find that 20% of the times people felt envious, it was elicited by Facebook use.

Well-being
Kim and Lee (2011) looked at self-reported well-being and Facebook. They posited that the amount of Facebook friends could be associated with people’s well-being. And that is exactly what they found in their sample of college students, more friends mean higher well-being. This wasn’t because they perceive more social support but according to the researchers it is more likely to be an enhancement of self-worth.
In terms of social support, they find a  negative curvilinear association with the amount of friends. Most likely due to the fact that maintaining a few close relationships is important for social support, and that the number of friends is not important in this regard.
Positive self-presentation on Facebook also positively influences people’s well-being. The authors point out that people like having positive feelings about themselves, and that presenting yourself in such a way can increase your subjective well-being.

Dunbar, R. I. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Journal of human evolution, 22(6), 469-493.

Kim, J., & Lee, J. E. R. (2011). The Facebook paths to happiness: Effects of the number of Facebook friends and self-presentation on subjective well-being. CyberPsychology, behavior, and social networking, 14(6), 359-364.

Krasnova, H., Wenninger, H., Widjaja, T., & Buxmann, P. (2013). Envy on Facebook: A hidden threat to users’ life satisfaction?.

Moreno, M. A., Jelenchick, L. A., Egan, K. G., Cox, E., Young, H., Gannon, K. E., & Becker, T. (2011). Feeling bad on Facebook: depression disclosures by college students on a social networking site. Depression and anxiety, 28(6), 447-455.

 

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