Facebook is No Friend to Mental Health

Roughly a half billion people interact on Facebook every day, with many more engaging in other social networking sites. With all these friends, it would seem that social networking followers have a great support system and a happy life. New research points out, however, that Facebook may actually be undermining well-being and life satisfaction.

Researchers at the University of Michigan examined two weeks of Facebook use and concluded that the more people use Facebook, the more negative they feel about their life moment-to-moment, and the more dissatisfied they were with their life in general over time. The results were not affected by gender, self-reported loneliness, baseline symptoms of depression, the size of the social network, the motivation for using Facebook, or the perceived level of support from Facebook friends.

Several other studies have reported negative associations with social networking, including tension between romantic partners. Social networking sites foster attachment issues, uncertainty, and partner surveillance, all of which lead to negative relationship outcomes. Another study reported that the use of social networking sites leads to decreased intimacy in relationships, mostly owing to perceptions about the quality and quantity of the romantic partner’s use of social networking. Divorce and cheating has also been attributed to Facebook, especially in relationships that are less than 3 years old.

Social networking sites appear to offer a means for individuals with low self-esteem or difficulties establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships to grow relationships and share connections with other people. However, these individuals most in need of positive social relationships actually suffer from social networking sites owing to an inability to communicate appropriately and negative reactions from other people, which led to lower self-esteem and negative effects on well-being in several studies.

All of this is not to say that there are no benefits to social networking, or that all people who use it end up depressed and dissatisfied with life. Patients with chronic illnesses or rare conditions are able to find information on their diseases and gain support from others around the globe, which has led to improved disease education and clinical outcomes. And, younger people who have grown up in the digital age are living proof of the transformation of intimate relationships. For many in this demographic, larger Internet-based social networks lead to higher levels of life satisfaction and social support. The internet may offer permanent relationships in a mobile world.

Most people spend their days constantly connected to things (phones, computers, tablets) and not to other people. Growing a digital network of people who “like” you, “share” things with you, and want to be your “friend” does not, at least according to recent research, create life-sustaining, life-fulfilling friendships. Social networks can certainly be used in a healthy, appropriate way and offer a modern way to communicate. But, they cannot replace true, meaningful relationships that lead to improved overall well-being.


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Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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