Science confirms that comparing yourself to your Facebook friends is harmful to your mental health — but you probably already knew that

Social media definitely has its upsides — especially for those of us whose friends are scattered across the country and world, making it difficult to find mutually convenient times for phone dates. But, in a study that reaffirms what we already knew, science confirms that comparing yourself to your Facebook friends is harmful to your mental health.

Researchers from Lancaster University investigated the phenomenon of “Facebook depression,” a clinical term that refers to the depression that’s often developed by adolescents and pre-teens who spend an unhealthy amount of time on social media sites like Facebook.

After reviewing studies from 14 countries, which involved 35,000 participants, the researchers concluded that comparing yourself to your Facebook friends has a different impact than comparing yourself to people in the real world — and the practice is more likely to make you depressed.


Lead researcher Dave Baker investigated the data by using standardized measures of depression and cross-checking them with people’s social media habits.

"We found that comparing yourself with people on social media was more likely to make you feel depressed than comparing yourself offline," Baker tells Broadly. "Rumination—meaning you spend a lot of time overthinking your experiences online—was another. So if you log on and see something and you're still thinking about it afterwards, that can make you become depressed."


However, one caveat is that research can’t confirm cause and effect — which leaves scientists with the question of whether Facebook makes people depressed, or unhappy people tend to spend more time on social media than their happier peers.

For example, science has shown that posting negative Facebook statuses is highly correlated with depression — but there’s no direct proof that Facebook is the cause of a person’s depression.


Social media isn't going anywhere, so Baker hopes further research will help scientists determine ways these platforms can provide support for individuals suffering from depression or other mental illnesses. "I want to see whether social networking sites can be used as a supportive mechanism for bipolar disorder," he says.

Until then, let’s use the practice of “if you see something, say something.” If a Facebook friend posts a status indicating that he or she is struggling, it’ll only take a few minutes out of our day to reach out and express that we care and are here to listen if the person wants to talk. When someone is suffering from depression, seemingly small acts of kindness can make a world of difference.

Filed Under