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Is social media making you depressed or is it something else? TL:DR: Yes, it's social media

You’ve built your following on LinkedIn, you have more friends than the average person on Facebook, and you’re known for never breaking a streak on Snapchat. So why do you still feel disconnected?

Social media can be terrible for your health. It makes you feel connected (when you’re not), and it can contribute to depression and unfavorable comparisons. In our always-on connected world, breaking away can be hard to do. As a result, we keep scrolling and reading.

First, it’s essential to know that not all social media is terrible. Social media can be a terrific way to extend your network, stay in touch with grandma, and share photos of your new puppy. It’s our use of it that’s out of control.

The link between social media, depression, and lower cognitive function Many of us are troubled. Depression is higher than it’s ever been, according to a study in Psychological Medicine. Even controlling for differences in age, regions, or backgrounds, depression has increased significantly in the years since 2005.


If you’re using social media to feel more connected, a recent study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggests that it’s not working. Positive interactions on social media didn’t help people feel happier. Negative interactions, on the other hand, magnified feelings of sadness. The same goes for comparison, which social media encourages. Another study, published by the American Psychological Association, showed comparing yourself to others via social media also has negative effects, leading to brooding and symptoms of depression.

Reaching for your cell phone as a mental break is also a bad idea. Research by Rutgers University compared participants in the midst of completing a task who took a break with their cell phones, with paper and pencil, and who took no break at all. Those who used their cell phones during their break solved 22% fewer problems and took 19% longer to complete their tasks than those under the other conditions.

Social media makes it more difficult for us to connect with others British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar developed the idea that based on our brain size, 150 people is the maximum number of meaningful connections any person can have. This is the number of people you can reasonably keep up with—you know enough about them to ask about their family or their new house. Here’s another way to think of it: How many people you could run into at a bar and join informally for a drink without feeling like you were intruding?

Be in charge of your device, rather than letting it be in charge of you. Just because it rings or vibrates doesn’t mean you must respond to your device. Remind yourself that

you’re in charge, not your device or the people on the other end of it who’ve just pinged you.

Here’s what’s interesting about social media. You might have more connections, but only in your outer circles of acquaintances. You may have 800 friends on Facebook, but they’re not people you know well or you might call if you had a flat tire. Your LinkedIn connections may be vast, but how many of them do you have a relationship with? Can you recognize them if you see them at the grocery store and not in a business setting?

Social media use also has an opportunity cost. If we’re at home snapping our friends on Snapchat or posting photos on Instagram, we’re not connecting with them in person. Even if we are with people in person, being heads-down on a device means that we miss out on meaningful interactions.

As we explored this summer, #Instagram is the most damaging social media platform when it comes to young people’s mental health, new research suggests.

The photo-sharing app, which is owned by Facebook and has 700 million users worldwide, is considered the social media platform most likely to cause young people to feel depressed, anxious and lonely, according to a U.K.-wide study by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) released in 2017.

In a survey of almost 1,500 in the U.K. aged 14 to 24, the RSPH found that young people were most likely to associate Instagram with negative attributes and low self-esteem, resulting in poor body image, lack of sleep and clinical insomnia.

#, the ephemeral photo messaging app, was also seen as a close contender, and most likely to leave users feeling bullied or left out by their peers.

“It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing - both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of RSPH, who conducted the #StatusOfMind report in collaboration with the Young Health Movement (YHM).

Becky Inkster, honorary research fellow at the University of Cambridge, added that medical bodies could also harness social media to help them communicate with young people about mental health issues.

“For young people, using social media and digital technologies as a tool to help with mental health make sense for many reasons,” she said. But the costs and dangers are exceedingly outweighing the momentary fleeting benefits of social media usage.

“As health professionals we must make every attempt to understand modern youth culture expressions, lexicons, and terms to better connect with their thoughts and feelings.”

The upcoming "7 Steps to Social Media Abstinence" by's founder is gathering traction within the law enforcement and mental health advocacy communities in its methodology that emphasizes the importance of unplugging before it's too late. Become a #Unfollower today or check back to reserve your copy.

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