We’ve known for years that social media — with Facebook being one of the most prominent platforms — can negatively effect mental health. You probably saw about a week ago that Facebook came out with a blog post about that topic.
In the post, the company acknowledges research asserting that technology can drive people apart and make them depressed. But it also claims such research may not be valid and doesn’t tell the whole story. Facebook, it insists, can improve mental health, too. Strong relationships are important for overall health, the bloggers point out correctly, and Facebook can strengthen those relationships.
The blog also points us toward research I hadn’t seen: A University of Michigan study found that how you interact with Facebook makes a difference for mood. Those who just read their feeds end up in worse moods than those who post or talk to friends.
So the company is making efforts to steer people toward actually interacting with their networks. They’re pushing posts from friends you’ve shown you care about to the top of your feed. They’re giving users the option to temporarily “snooze” content from friends they aren’t interested in. They’re giving people more control over how they interact with their exes on the site. And they’re working to connect users, especially suicidal people, with mental health resources.
I appreciate these changes, though I’m not sure I’ve noticed much of a difference. I still see a lot of click bait in my feed, even though they claim they’ve made friends’ posts more prominent. Curating your feed to hide posts from people who make you feel bad is a great thing — definitely do it. As for Facebook working harder to push mental health resources, I love it.
A more important change I’d like to see — but will probably never see — is a feature alerting users to how much time they’ve spent using Facebook and suggesting a break. There are so many more meaningful things we can do with our time, things that promote our mental wellbeing rather than detract from it. And while I agree that building strong social support systems is crucial, you have to weigh that against the depression that results from comparing your real life to the edited highlights of other people’s lives.
If you find yourself feeling down after spending time on social media, I suggest trying a break from it. Uninstall the apps from your phone for a week and see how it changes how you’re feeling. There are better ways to strengthen relationships.
I’ve said it before: Get outside. Read a book. Do something creative. Volunteer. So many of us need to find a better social media/life balance. Let’s pay more attention to how we’re feeling when we’re on social media and choose to spend our time doing things that make us happy.