Depression and Social Media
Written by Samantha Ferguson
Do you ever overhear conversations at work, on the train, in a coffee shop, or even at the gym where people complain that, “So-and-so posts too much about their life on Facebook”?
Or, “They’re always posting about being unwell, but they can't be unwell because they’re always uploading pictures of themselves out partying”?
In my opinion, social media is basically a personal portfolio of who we are, posted for the world to see. Our followers are people we know and people we have never met. We share with them our likes, dislikes, and interests, giving them insight into our lives and how we want to appear. Don't even get me started on dating sites...
Naturally, for people with mental illness, social media can be both a comfort and an accomplice. I used social media to mask the darkness I was consumed by. Not only did this hide how I was feeling from friends and family — I began to believe my own lies instead of facing the truth. I was ill. I needed help. I wasn't some fun, carefree teenager always out on the weekends “luvin life.”
Let me ask you this — do you ever scroll down your apps when you're feeling low and think things like, “He has so many friends. She’s always busy and living the high life. They always look so 'loved up.’ How is everyone either travelling, engaged, married or pregnant?”
It's fucking depressing, especially when you're already depressed. It leaves you feeling so inferior that you wonder why your life is so empty and pointless compared to theirs.
And then there's the number of likes, comments, and friends you have online.
“Why is my profile not good enough?”
“Why am I not good enough?"
I used to be obsessed with how shitty my life was, so I did everything in my power to make it look the complete opposite online. I always felt I needed to prove myself and this is how social media became an accomplice to my illness. It was like I couldn't escape how much of a failure I was. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel trying so hard to prevent anyone from catching up with me and finding out the truth. I hated being seen to be on my own. I wanted my profile to be a reality.
The reality is that I was surrounded by people who loved and adored me. Real life people that actually mattered. I just couldn't emotionally recognize that.
So I decided to change my approach to social media when I became single. I began to post less about what I was doing and more about things that interested me as a person. Time spent on my own taught me to interact with the person I was and learn to love her again.
Part of this included being transparent about what I was going through and not being embarrassed. The first step to recovery is self-acceptance — something that I have refused to do for a long time because it's easier to stick with what you know than make yourself vulnerable to the unknown.
I received a few comments from people who had negative views on the fact I was posting articles and videos about mental illness.
Do you know what I did? I posted more.
Mental health matters to me. It is a part of me and I matter. Educating people matters to me and that's how I want my “portfolio” to be.
I've come to realize that by focusing less on what others think of me, I'm now able to develop an online presence that is genuine and effortless.
I've started going to the gym and I'm not ashamed to say that I post progress pictures and selfies daily. I'm fucking proud of myself. I wanted to share my progress and show people my journey so far. That's what matters to me.
In turn I have learned to enjoy my own company. Being seen to spend a lot of time on my own is okay. It feels okay. I think that's because I'm actually proud of myself — and that means I'm recovering.
I remember posting a picture of myself online because I made it to the gym despite having dark thoughts that day.
I put a caption, “Still made it to the gym. I hope this inspires other people battling the dark cloud of depression each day. You're stronger than you think.”
Mental health is not something you can treat overnight. I still have days where I long to be taken to a hospital, locked away and forced into recovery. But I know that wouldn't solve anything for me. Part of the illness is your mind telling you you're not making progress when you actually are. It can seem safer to stay ill — especially after eight years of living that way.
One thing I will say is that recovery takes time and it's something that requires learning new skills. Maybe recovery is an ongoing process that never concludes. Who am I to say? But, as long as I'm educating myself and others that mental health is a part of me — I’m moving forward.
Social media is now my comfort. It allows me to forge a true sense of identity for myself and my life. It just so happens that it has aided me to build my confidence and feel comfortable in my own skin. I now understand why those with social anxiety find social media a comfort — but I would stress not to let it be an accomplice.