Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has become a rat race to popularity – adding friends (and friends of friends), posting only the pictures that catch your good side, counting the number of likes on the links and statuses you post.
For some, however, these activities may lead to “Facebook depression” – or at least that’s what a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
The report, published March 28, described this as a risk for young people using social media and defined it as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.”
Teens who use Facebook often allow potentially damaging real-life interactions to slip onto the Internet, sometimes in the form of cyberbullying or clique-forming, the report stated.
A VICIOUS CYCLE
Checkfacebook.com, a site that tracks Facebook demographics, reported that as of April 11, more than 13.5 million people between the ages of 14 to 17 have a Facebook profile, accounting for 8.9 percent of all the site’s U.S. users.
According to the report, those who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for similar problems as people with regular depression, including substance abuse, unsafe sex and aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.
Some at Boston University, however, said they do not believe that Facebook induces depression and that at worst it increases depression vulnerability for someone who already has a low self-esteem.
“When we see two things [like Facebook and depression], we can make the false assumption that the two things are associated,” said Martha Tompson, an associate professor in psychology department. “It could be that depressed teens and preteens go on the site and it makes them feel worse.”
About 20 percent of teenagers will experience depression by the time they reach adulthood, according to TeenHealth.com. Various areas of one’s life, including Facebook, can serve as a trigger.
“I guess it makes sense as just a theory,” said Anna Gensler, a sophomore in the College of Communication. “I don’t feel depressed when I look. I think if someone thinks they have Facebook depression, it has to be a bigger issue.”
Tompson said that Facebook is similar to TV shows and other media representations that give skewed representations of society, but unlike those it amplifies this distortion with friend requests, selective tagging and other aspects of creating the Facebook identity.
“The term ‘friend’ on Facebook means something so entirely different from a friend in the real world,” she said. “In high school or real life, you have that distinction between the two. Facebook seems to just bunch them all up under the same category.”
Facebook and other forms of media can also serve as potential triggers among college students, Tompson said.
“It’s the issue of the social comparison,” she said. “It’s less apparent for the 10- and 11-year-olds I’ve worked with. The risk for depression increases as one gets older, and it’s even higher among girls.”
Although Tompson said Facebook can affect depression vulnerability, she claims this is not a new phenomenon.
“It could interact with depression vulnerability,” she said. “Let’s say you feel bad about yourself, and then you see cheerleaders who look fabulous. Of course, that would affect you. It’s not so different from other things that fuel depression. It’s not something teens need to stay away from.”
Katie Durand, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she agrees that Facebook could affect people in a certain way, but not enough to cause a particular kind of depression.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to use Facebook for socializing but I’m also the kind of person who will go and talk to my friends in person,” she said. “I guess [depression] happens with a lot of things.”
COM junior Emily DeHority, however, said she felt that distancing herself from Facebook and her “friends” there improved her lifestyle.
“I would sit there and go through everyone’s pictures and I was like, ‘why am I not doing the same thing?’” DeHority said. “I deleted it to see if I could do more than just sit and look at Facebook. So far it’s worked.”
But Tompson said the solution does not have to be as extreme as avoiding Facebook. Parents and schools should instead teach children to be wary “consumers of media,” she said.
“There are ongoing discussions among friends, teachers, peers and parents about Facebook,” Tompson said. “It’s about being able to understand the context of [what you see on Facebook], and that this might not be the true representation.
“Most of what we see on Facebook is not a representation of people’s full personhood.”