"Social media gives an unrealistic vision of what is happening in people's lives. Pinterest shows us pictures of perfect houses and mothers creating elaborate crafts. Facebook is full of our friend's children wearing cute outfits and beaming smiles while they vacation at amazing resorts and say only cute things. Instagram points out all the fancy restaurant dinners everyone else is eating. Social media is mostly a game of "I'm a perfect mom and you aren't!" This makes you feel bad, and leads to depression. Probably everyone should just get off of social media and live in the real world. Oh, but first, leave us a comment on our facebook page telling us what you think about social media and depression."There was some truth to this news story. People do tend to present themselves at their best on social media. They share the one good picture they took that day instead of the 50 bad ones. They tell you the cute thing their kid said, without telling you about disrespectful backtalk and rooms left unclean. When bloggers share a craft tutorial, they don't show you the blury pictures of failed crafting attempts. It can seem like you are surrounded by perfect people living charmed lives.
But you know in your heart that isn't true. We all have issues and burdens to bear. The problem is, when you are already depressed (actually depressed - not just a little sad or more than a little jealous), the dark cloud in your mind makes it hard to see past the perfect wrapping presented on social media to the truth inside your friend's lives.
This doesn't mean social media is causing depression.
And the news story certainly didn't give a balanced view of what happens on social media. In fact, I don't think it was a good example at all. It certainly doesn't represent what happens in my internet life every day. Sure I see all those perfect updates and pictures as I scroll through my newsfeed, but I see a whole lot more than that.
Social media has been a lifeline for me. When my daughter was a baby, and I was dealing with postpartum depression and a resurgence of feelings, flashbacks, and memories from a childhood full of sexual abuse, I found hope and support in an online forum for sexual abuse and rape survivors. That message board eventually helped to lead me to blogging and social media.
How do I use social media?Between work and personal use, I am on social media for most of the day. I check my facebook just like you do. I hit the like button on happy updates and cute pictures, and offer prayers for difficult situations. Sometimes I feel that prick of jealousy when I see yet another fabulous vacation, new house, or professional family photograph. I'll be honest, my family lives in a hotel (a motel, really). Life is not always rosy, and even though I know we are very blessed to have the things we do, I am no stranger to jealousy. But when I think about my friends and family, I want good things for them. So I rejoice with them. The way they rejoice with me when I share something good or special. I focus on the good. That is the most basic social media interaction, but it isn't the lifeline I mentioned before.
When I said social media has been a lifeline, I am talking about interactions that many of you never see. Social media has given me safe spaces to reach for a hand on hard days, and to be that hand on better days. I'm involved in groups on facebook: survivor groups, motherhood support groups, Bible study groups, a group with very special women who are sisters of my heart, and some groups with lighter focuses like blogging, writing, and book clubs. There are also twitter chats, blogs, and personal interactions in emails and private messages. All of these things have a common thread - they are a place of connection. They are safe spaces where I can share the hard things I might not be ready to shout out to the entire world right this second, but do need to say to someone. They are spaces where I can laugh, and spaces where I can learn about new things.
I have found amazing friendships on social media. People who live on the other side of the country, or even in other countries, who are closer to my heart than my next door neighbors. This is my community. Not to say I don't have friends in my "real world" life who are also supportive and close to my heart; I do. But social media makes it possible to connect with people who are dealing with the same issues you are in real time.
With social media, you can have a supportive group without having to find a babysitter to attend a weekly meeting. I know there are people I can contact at any time of the day or night, and I will be supported completely. I know I am not alone. I'm not saying social media will cure depression, but I am saying it can make the journey easier. It has helped to make me stronger, and I have found real encouragement and support as I practice better self-care.
Social Media is what you make of it.You might need to step back and take a break from social media. If you are really battling depression, social media isn't the entire cause, and the entire answer to your depression probably isn't to leave social media completely. Speak to a doctor about your depression, and then take that social media break. Use it as an opportunity to reevaluate how you are using social media. Maybe you need to unfriend certain people or hide their updates from your feed for a while. Maybe you need to limit your Pinterest use to searching for specific things, and then quickly logging off after you have found them. Maybe you need to lead the charge of sharing more openly and honestly the hard and difficult things as well as the seemingly perfect pictures and cute kid moments.
Social media is an opportunity to share you heart, and your passions, with a wider audience. It is an opportunity for you to connect with other people in a new way, and build a community that nourishes your soul.
When I think of people sitting in front of their computers, feeling bad about themselves because they aren't living up to an invisible standard represented in seemingly perfect pictures, I want to take their hands and lead them to the people who are doing good work in social media. The people who offer support and encouragement, not judgement; people like Mama's Comfort Camp, Band Back Together, Postpartum Progress, Spoons 4 Spoonies, #PPDChat, #SexAbuseChat, #MHSM, #MHBlogs, Listen To Your Mother, To Write Love On Her Arms, Ten Things Of Thankful, Pour Your Heart Out, 100x100 Challenge, She Reads Truth, and so many others. I don't spend much time in health-focused communities, but I have friends who have benefited greatly from groups that focus on health and running. Some of them even have special apps you can use to stay connected.
If you don't have those kind of connections and support in your personal social media, I want to encourage you to reach out for them. Find people who are walking the same path you are, and spend your online time with them. You will see a difference in how you feel when you shut down the computer or set aside your phone at the end of the day.
Do you think social media causes or contributes to depression?
What supportive communities are you involved with on social media?
Feel free to name names and leave links to your favorite supportive groups and communities in the comments if you are comfortable sharing. I want people to know there are resources out there, and give them a place to start connecting.