Internet based social media has been around longer than you may think. The first incarnation started in the 1970s with the Bulletin Board System (BBS). Through the eighties and nineties the popularity of the BBS continued to grow, eventually being joined by usenet, where people joined in newsgroup conversations. However, it wasn’t until 2003 that social media really took off with MySpace. From 2003 – 2006 MySpace ruled the internet with its mix of music, music videos, and a funky, feature-filled environment, all readily available for free.
Then in 2006 Facebook (originally launch as a college campus application in 2004) was released to the general public, and the rest, as they say, was history! Still the most popular of the social media sites, Facebook leads Twitter, Instagram and all the others. With Facebook now boasting 1.79 billion monthly active users, Facebook seems to be unstoppable, but behind all the cat memes and photos of people’s lunches, something much darker is happening.
Reports from August suggest that 1 in 6 teenage boys and 1 in 3 teenage girls are now suffering from anxiety or depression, and most of the cases are related to social media. So why would something, that on the face of it seems quite harmless, be causing so many mental health issues?
We’ve all seen pictures on Facebook of friends having a wonderful time in some far flung exotic country, or a picture of the new 100” 4K TV they just bought or the brand new Porsche sitting on their drive. For some though those pictures just drive home the message that these things are always going to be out of reach for them – the 21st Century version of keeping up with the Joneses. Worse still, this could encourage some people to acquire credit that they can ill afford in order to live to the lifestyle of their apparently rich and happy friends. But of course these are just two dimensional pictures that don’t always tell the whole story. There might be a Porsche on the drive, but is it really theirs? Has the 100” TV actually being bought on credit at sky high interest rates? As crazy as it might sound it’s not that uncommon for people to post things they don’t have in order to give the impression of happiness or even to make an ex jealous.
Another problem with social media is that it can be extremely addictive. How much time do you spend with your smartphone glued to your hand with the Facebook app open and ready? When you sit down for a family dinner, how often do you have the phone out on the table in case you get a notification? How does it make you feel when you accidentally go and leave your phone at home? Do you start feeling anxious when the phone (or tablet) isn’t within reach, worrying about whether someone has messaged you or replied to a comment? Do you find yourself getting up in the middle of the night to check for messages?
Most of us have posted a photo or a funny status on Facebook or Twitter and wondered if people will find it funny. Even better if they will react to it with a smiley face or a ’like’. But for some the number of likes or comments they get on a post is a definitive sign of their own popularity. Posting a status of a picture and go little or no reaction can cause a serious amount of anxiety, to the point that they wonder why people don’t like them or what they have done to upset everybody. Of course there is also the competition factor; ‘how come that horrible person got 500 likes when I only get a handful?’ or even worse seeing a picture of your friends have a great time at a party you weren’t invited too.
You ask Jeremy Kyle what he thinks of Facebook and at best you’ll get an angry growl in response. Facebook (and arguably Jeremy Kyle himself) is a major cause of relationship anxiety. You could say that the problem is trust rather than Facebook, but that’s rather letting Facebook off the hook – think of the insecurities that Facebook can create;
- He read my message but he hasn’t replied, is he angry or upset with me? Is he with someone else?
- She told me she was out all day but I can see is she is online, why is she lying?
- Who are all these women on his friends list? Why does he ‘keep liking’ her posts?
These are just a few examples of how monitoring (or even stalking) your partner online can lead to anxiety, self-doubt and a breakdown of trust.
It’s well reported how bullying in the real world can cause anxiety and depression and in some cases lead to suicide, but online bullying can be just as damaging. People, especially young people, can be very cruel and Twitter and other social media platforms can be the perfect outlet for their vitriol. Whether picking on people they know or harassing celebrities with a barrage of nasty and unwelcome tweets, some people get a real kick out of wielding a perceived power that the comfort of distance gives them. For the person on the receiving end of these attacks every word can be as damaging as a fist.
Used in the right way, social media can be a healthy, enjoyable way to interact with people and keep in touch with distant friends and relatives. But don’t let it take over your life, you will always be more fulfilled by interacting with people face to face, and there are only so many pictures of cats and dinners you can view in one day! If however you recognise some of the issues raised in this article, or think there are others that I have missed leave a comment, or if you want to have a confidential chat about how social media is causing you anxiety then give us call or a drop us a message.