October 25, 2013

Is Facebook Threatening Our Mental Health?

There is a trend that appears to be happening on Facebook.  In the past, I have written about it and cracked the odd joke here and there, but now it has become so apparent that I am seriously reconsidering my participation.  At first, I appreciated reconnecting with friends from my past and it has helped establish or renew friendships. When I didn't have many friends in my new town, I would take comfort in my long list of friends on FB.

Not too soon after, however, I started noticing a trend. It seems as though everyone is happier and more positive than I am. I came across a recent article in the newspaper on this very subject. The author suggested there is an underlying assumption or pressure to present your best life, your best attitude, and your best self (versus just being honest). On Facebook, everyone is beautiful (making sure they take the perfect selfie that shows their best side and no wrinkles). Everyone appreciates life (by adding at the end of their statement..."life is good!" - an observation from the author of the article). People use Facebook to showcase the very best; the awards, the good deeds, the beautiful and talented children....but where are the depressed, lonely, stressed out, and desperate people?

The statistics on mental health issues in Canada suggest that almost 50% (or maybe even higher) of Canadians are depressed. Stress and depression are becoming epidemic yet everyone on Facebook is happy. What's up with that? My book of the week right now is "Smile or Die; How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World" by Barbara Ehrenreich. In it she details her own experiences of breast cancer. She noticed, when accessing the breast cancer chat sites, that everyone was very positive and upbeat. When she posted her feelings of sadness and fear she was met with frustration, anger, and even disrespect. It was evident that honesty was not welcome and "positive thinking" was the focus.

Now, I don't know too much, but I think there's a certain amount of pressure placed on people to be happy and positive when exposed to the outpouring of Polly-Anna-speak (for those too young to get that reference, Polly-Anna was a movie character who was always very positive).  I know many Facebookers who are angry, depressed, sick, and fearful but post nothing but "life is good" statements on Facebook. I wonder what would happen if they were just honest? Would they be ignored (perhaps no one would "like" their admissions. Is it the extrinsic reward of the "like" button that keeps people positive?

If we were rewarded by stating how we really feel perhaps we would be more honest. Now that's a thought.

I think Facebook and other such social media sites are threatening to our mental health. We need a place to be ourselves and to talk about our true feelings about life, family, and relationships. Let's face it, when over half of the population is on an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication there has got to be a giant disconnect somewhere.

I have started posted articles and books challenging this positivity practice on my Facebook page....haven't got one "like" or comment yet. I am not a pessimist or a negative person (as much as you may think I am after reading this). I have an extreme amount of hope and faith and happiness in me. I am, however, a realist and I do work in an area where I'm privy to mental health information and know there are more sad and hopeless people out there than there are happy people.

So when will we gather the courage to allow others to see us as our true selves?


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