New research suggests that comparing yourself with others on Facebook is more likely to lead to feelings of depression than making social comparisons offline.
The finding comes from new research on the relationship between social networking and depression.
In the review, Lancaster University researchers David Baker and Dr Guillermo Perez Algorta, examined a host of studies on the topic. The international review evaluated research articles from 14 countries including 35,000 participants aged between 15 and 88.
Amazingly, 1.8 billion people participate in online social networking sites worldwide, with Facebook alone having more than one billion active users.
Concerns over the effect on mental health led the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 to define “Facebook depression” as a “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.”
The Lancaster University review of existing research found that the relationship between online social networking and depression may be very complex and associated with factors like age and gender.
In cases where there is a significant association with depression, this is because comparing yourself with others can lead to “rumination” or overthinking. Findings include:
- Negative comparison with others when using Facebook was found to predict depression via increased rumination;
- Frequent posting on Facebook was found to be associated with depression via rumination.
However, the frequency, quality, and type of online social networking is also important, say the researchers. Investigators discovered Facebook users were more at risk of depression when they:
- Felt envy triggered by observing others;
- Accepted former partners as Facebook friends;
- Made negative social comparisons;
- Made frequent negative status updates.
Gender and personality also influenced the risk, with women and people with neurotic personalities more likely to become depressed.
Nevertheless, the relationship between online activity and mental health is complex as some research shows that online activity could also help people with depression.
In fact, researchers discovered some individuals use online social media as a mental health resource and as a channel to enhance social support.