Depression in the Age of Social Media

“When we use the word ‘depression’ for every negative emotional state, the word loses its meaning.” -Dr. Stan Kutcher 

Yesterday, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Audrie & Daisy. Though it was not explicitly about depression, in fact it was about sexual assault, it made a lot of good points about what social media has done to us as far as our feelings and how we are perceived. I think what stuck out the most was not the crimes committed against the girls in the film, but rather, the way social media tore them down after the fact. In fact, many of them fell into some sort of deep depression.

When you cannot go home and escape the pain you have experienced because you have been heckled so much- when and where do you get your peace? In fact, Audrie, one of the girls the movie was about, committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted because of the strong presence of negativity thrown at her via social media.

This post is not about that, but you can read more about Audrie on this Wikipedia page.

What I really want to talk about today is similar, though not completely. Social media has redefined the way we speak about and even acquire our depression. Sure, we have all heard our fair share of stories about cyber bullying, but do we really understand what can become of someone who is tormented online?

Not only this, but sites like Tumblr have opened new doors for the depression community. This can be both positive and negative.

If you are not familiar with the world of Tumblr, it’s basically a no holds barred blogging site. You can run across anything from pornography to blogs about self harm. This can be a scary thought because many people who are using this site for these purposes are not known to the world, and simply exhibited to an online community of those who wallow in self pity.

There is nothing wrong with finding support within those that are like minded, however, sites like Tumblr and Instagram can display graphic depictions of suicide and self harm, there are even support groups for those who are pro anorexia among other eating disorders.  If you google something like “depression tumblr” on google, thousands of pictures will pop up of a number of things, ranging from gifs of popular movie characters with depression, to pictures of cuts on people’s wrists. It has gotten so out of hand that if you search something like “depression” or “self harm” on something like Tumblr or Instagram, there will be a disclaimer message warning of the morbidity of the content, and offering a phone number for those to seek help.

Looking deeper into this is not for the faint of heart. Kids will post pictures of their cuts, of their emaciated bodies as they die from an eating disorder. In fact the internet has become at safe place for many a depressed teenager to let go of their angst without judgement.

There is even a culture of the “wannabe depressive” just like “wannarexics” who wish they could be anorexic but can’t seem to. This is frightening as well, who wants to wake up and be depressed? Who genuinely wants to suffer from an eating disorder?

The online depressive community has painted a negative image of what depression is. Truly, most who are depressed generally do not take to the airwaves to talk about their illness, though some may find the solace in the pity their internet friends are dishing out. Sure, it removes stigma, only to create another- that people who suffer from depression are all suicidal and self harming.

This influx of information and black and white pictures has really drowned those who have genuinely suffered, and is a dangerous trend. Even back when I was a teen living in the MySpace days, plenty of kids dyed their hair black and wrote poems about dying. I also feel as a generation we have become desensitized to watching someone slit their throat or overdose on drugs. Many in the Tumblr community might call that “tragically beautiful” but to those who have genuine illness may not think so.

It’s a vicious, reverberating cycle. The internet is like waves on a shore, coming in and pulling you back out- these communities are tight knit, and leaving them behind is sometimes harder than getting in. The internet perpetuates many negative images, I’m not skinny enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m worthless, I’m sad- a lot of people think themselves into these masochistic holes.

This is not a “real” education of what depression or any mental illness is. Sitting behind a screen and looking at depressing content cannot be any better for someone who feels depressed. It has expanded this conversation, but maybe not in the right ways. If anything, I feel many are crying for help only to be met by those who feel the same, so they can never leave those tendencies behind. There are some serious questions to ask.

What can anyone do? The internet is a massive free for all. Freedom of speech is something I believe in, but when it comes to the actual health of others should we censor what is seen? Should a 16 year old girl be able to post pictures of her self inflicted wounds? Where does the line blur?

Overall, social media can be a beautiful thing, to keep in touch and even feel support from those like you all over the world- giving voices to the voiceless. However, think about what you’re doing, and what you’re seeing there. Try to end that negativity, not perpetuate it.

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