Heavy Facebook Users More Likely to Be Depressed

Posted on June 6th, 2016
Posted in Articles

A new study conducted in Poland has found that those suffering from depression were at greater risk of becoming addicted to Facebook. The study looked specifically at “Facebook intrusion,” a similar measure to addiction, and the risk factors for developing the issue that were identified may help guide prevention efforts designed to reduce Facebook addiction in the future. The study also looked at potential associations with Internet use altogether, but depression was linked only to Facebook, according to the results.

What Is Facebook Intrusion?

The term used in the study, “Facebook intrusion,” isn’t in widespread use, but the authors define it as “excessive involvement in Facebook, disrupting day-to-day activities and interpersonal relationships.” This obviously overlaps quite strongly with the definition of addiction, but the focus is more specifically on the impacts on relationships, although it does acknowledge disruption to day-to-day activities, too (as a more general definition would). In essence, the measure can be seen as one of Facebook addiction, even though it’s technically different. Previous research has developed a questionnaire for Facebook intrusion based on the core features of technology addictions, finding that the score was linked to dissatisfaction with relationships due to jealous thoughts and the propensity to snoop on partners using the social media site.

Links Between Facebook Intrusion, Depression

The new study aimed to investigate the potential link between Facebook intrusion, general Internet use and depression, recruiting 672 Polish Facebook users between the ages of 15 and 75, with two-thirds of the group being female. The participants were given two questionnaires: the Facebook intrusion questionnaire and one designed to measure levels of depression. The basic aim of the study was to look for associations between the two scores, and to reveal any other potential associations that could allow for better understanding of what makes somebody more likely to become addicted to Facebook.

The results showed that Facebook intrusion was linked to scores on the depression scale, meaning that those scoring higher on one questionnaire were more likely to score higher on the other, too. For Facebook intrusion specifically, it was shown that younger participants, males and those who spend more time online scored higher on the questionnaire. This suggests that young males who spend more time online are more likely to have issues with Facebook intrusion, and in turn they’d be more likely to struggle with depression.

However, when the authors looked at the relationship between time spent online altogether and depression, there was no link. This suggests that Facebook use in particular has an association with depression beyond that of using the Internet more often in general.

Who Is More Likely to Be Addicted to Facebook?

The study’s findings could enable early intervention for those at risk of developing an unhealthy dependence on Facebook, and they add to the existing body of knowledge on the type of people at risk for both Facebook and general Internet addiction. For Internet addiction overall, there have been a number of associations uncovered by previous research, suggesting that depression, loneliness, other addictions and sexual dysfunctions are more likely in those struggling with Internet addiction.

It would obviously be expected that similar findings would apply to Facebook—since Facebook addiction could be considered a form of Internet addiction—but there are some unique factors relevant to Facebook addiction. Dr. Robert Cloninger from the Washington University School of Medicine—who wasn’t involved in the study—commented that people addicted to Facebook often have low levels of self-direction and have “novelty-seeking” personalities.

He also spoke about links between personality traits and overuse of Facebook, adding that, “If you are introverted and socially shy, then your social skills may not be very good. So using your intelligence to navigate the Internet allows you to create an image that may not be very accurate, but that gets you social contacts—it’s like you can kind of live a lie or a fantasy on the Internet.”

He also echoes oft-repeated concerns about the effect of socializing via Facebook on real-world interactions, pointing out that it’s often used as a substitute for meeting real people. He adds that, “That just doesn’t give you real intimacy; it doesn’t build your capacity for trust and confidential relationships that are really deep and honest.”

It could well be that the depression risk observed in this study is associated with previous findings linking Facebook intrusion to dissatisfaction in relationships, possibly due to the use of Facebook to snoop on partners, exacerbating any existing problems with jealousy. Of course, this is something that would need to be established by further research, but the overall picture emerging for Facebook use and mental health issues isn’t a good one.

Cloninger believes that those using Facebook as a substitute for real-world interaction might also be the most vulnerable to rejection, commenting that, “You’ve got this paradox of the people most likely to use it are the ones who are then going to be most vulnerable to its dangers.”

Use Facebook, but Don’t Depend on It

This study and previous findings strongly suggest that Facebook—while a useful tool for staying in contact with friends and family—can be problematic if it’s used as a substitute for real-world relationships or if you overuse it. It’s important to remember that people choose what they post on Facebook, and it doesn’t give you the whole story. You might get jealous because of a suggestive status update from your partner, or even images of friends living what appear to be more exciting lives, but it’s crucial to remember that short status updates and carefully choreographed photos are simply snapshots that don’t capture the complex realities of real life. In short: don’t read too much into what others post, and be wary of comparing your day-to-day life (the stuff you don’t post) to others’ “highlight reels.” By all means, use Facebook, but it’s important to know when it’s time to log off and get some face-to-face time with others and experience the real, unedited world.

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