Curating Conflict: On Social Media and Depression
It can be argued that being depressed is "trending" these days. Even though social media algorithms prioritize our content by "relevance" based on the history of our content interactions, and provide each of us a unique and targeted experience, the topic is infiltrating social media feeds across the world at an alarming rate. Instagram has 5 million results for #anxiety and just over 1.5 million for #depression. The rapid speed of dissemination is causing many to feel that mental illness is being treated like a fashion trend. More well-known organizations such as HuffPost and InStyle are beginning to weigh in, calling people to action against promoting the appropriation of mental health terminology to support and maintain a personal image. Who could blame them? With companies like Urban Outfitters releasing whole lines of graphic tees that target this niche audience and attempt to monetize their suffering, it's not a far jump to assume that depression and anxiety might hold the same status as a new Apple Watch or a piece from Tiffany's.
But, if we take a step back, and look at the role that social media plays in the issue beyond that of a publishing platform, there is a darker reality. There is evidence that the fault for this growing trend doesn't lie on the runway, but with the very technology that is reporting the trend in the first place: social media, itself.
Forbes has described it as "addictive", and claims it can actually create a cycle of jealousy and self-criticism. Psychology Today went as far as to list it as a catalyst for mental health issues, and they are not alone. In 2014, Dr. Igor V. Pantic, Institute of Medical Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Belgrade, published a report claiming not only that social media has profoundly changed the way that we as people think, but that there could be a correlation between its use and depressive symptoms, changes in self-esteem, and Internet addiction. The BBC even reported the people with seven or more active social media platforms were more than three times as likely as to have high levels of anxiety symptoms than those using 0-2, but that ultimately more research was needed. That was in 2016. By 2017 even former vice-president of user growth for Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya came out about his personal perceptions of the dangers of this addictive, and influential form of technology.
It is not 2018, and even though all of those studies take the reasonable, and responsible position that more data is needed in order to determine definite causation, a correlation appears to be surfacing. I spoke with Karen Eubank, a licensed clinical social worker, and counselor, on her experience with the subject.
"The fact that Social Media and the formulas and algorithms are being aimed at younger and younger people, and children at this point, is really devastating to society, I think" - Karen Eubank