Not long ago, a friend of mine deleted her Instagram account. I couldn’t understand why one would ever do such a thing, so I asked and her response caught me off-guard.
She deleted her Instagram because she felt herself becoming depressed by it. The pressure of taking the right picture, with the right filter, wearing the right outfit, at the right place, with the right people was too much pressure.
We are conditioned to project only our best, albeit unrealistic, selves on our social media profiles as a modern way of virtually keeping up with the Joneses.
Regardless of whether you realize it, you’re spending a great deal of time and effort on the creation of your digital identity. The molding of this alternate self depends heavily on how others are projecting themselves in these arenas as well. What happens to your ‘real’ self, then?
Enter ‘smiling depression.’
Smiling depression is a term used to describe people who are depressed but do not appear so. In America today, 6.7 percent of the population over the age of 18 suffers from major depression, and it is the leading cause of disability in the 15-44 age range.
If you were to meet me for the first time, you would be very surprised to learn I have major depression. It is second nature to me to put on a mask of a happy person. Not only do I talk with people, I’m often the loudest person at a gathering and can always find something to joke or laugh about. This is smiling depression.
Social media puts an interesting lens on the creation of the self, and how this construction affects our mental well-being. The ideal self is the self we aspire to be. My ideal self would be a 25-year-old successful freelance writer who lives in a perpetually clean house and who always takes the time to put on makeup before she leaves the house.
One’s self-image is the person we actually are based on the actions, behaviors, and habits currently possessed. My self-image would be of a 25-year-old freelance writer just starting her business in a house that’s mostly clean most of the time and who forces herself not to wear pajamas everywhere.
According to Carl Rogers’s theory of personality, every human has the basic instinct to improve herself and realize her full potential. Like Abraham Maslow, he called this achievement self-actualization. He believed this state was attained when the ideal self and the person’s self-image were in line with each other. This person would be deemed a fully functioning person.
Each of us carries what Robert Firestone termed the critical inner voice. It is a dynamic that exists within every individual that offers a negative filter through which to view our life. It is theorized that the voice is created at an early age during times of stress or trauma.
Social media is not only extremely pervasive, it is an activity in which you are expected to participate. Not all social media is Facebook and Instagram. Think LinkedIn, the new virtual business profile quickly replacing the traditional printed resume. As a freelance writer, I very often see job postings that insist you have a strong ‘social media presence.’
This phenomenon is a tangible version of Rogers’s concept of the ideal self. We have a general persona we construct and put out to the cyber universe based on the person we want to be, and more important, based on the person we want to be seen as.
It also illustrates that depression is a complex disease. It is often biopsychosocial; that is, a conglomeration of factors is responsible for its occurrence, not only one’s body chemistry or personal history.
One factor for the high rates of depression seen in social media-friendly people is the inconsistency they observe between their ideal cyber self and their self-image. The desire to be seen positively has taught us to silence our troubles and we now have no idea how to express inner turmoil without feeling like we’re accepting social defeat.
For obvious reasons, people do not advertise their negative traits on their social profiles, nor do they pose unflattering pictures. Because of this strict control of the way we are viewed, we are often fooled into believing other people’s lives are much better than our own. What is essential to remember is they too wear masks, the way I do, the way everyone does.
Here are a few ways to treat social media depression:
- Take the time to unplug from technology and social media accounts everyday.
- When faced with social media-induced self-loathing, confront your negative thoughts and question their origin and validity.
- If you’re drawn to social media during times of boredom, ensure you have something to distract yourself, such as a book or fun phone app.