Digital Depression: Is social media making you sick?

(WVUE) - In mere seconds, we can share photos, our thoughts and opinions around the globe. But hot on the trail of our digital expression, is digital expectation.

"When I post, I am sort of embarrassed to admit, but I do kind of keep looking, like do people provide positive feedback, or interact with it?" said social media user Amy Barad.

A click of a mouse, scrolling, there is so much power at our fingertips.

"Yeah, it's just an ego boost. It's a momentary ego boost. You go, and you kind of like see if five or six more people liked it since the last time you looked, and it's a little embarrassing, but I think everyone does it," stated Robin Heindselman, another social media user.

When it comes to staying connected, we've come a long way. Telephones are computers, Internet speeds can leave dust in their wake. It's all part of the ramped-up technological revolution that has pushed social media interactions into the digital stratosphere.

The Pew Research Center said as of July 1, 2015, 76 percent of adults utilizing the Internet use social media sites, and an estimated 72 percent use Facebook.

"There's benefits, obviously, you're connecting with people," said Ashraf Esmail, Ph.D, a sociologist at Dillard University in New Orleans.

To be sure, social networking can be enjoyable, and many see it as a part of their daily routines. But increasingly headlines scream of studies on how social media may affect users mentally; in a sense putting social comparisons by users on steroids. University of Houston researchers concluded that spending a lot of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others is linked to depressive feelings.  However, the researchers stated that it does not mean that Facebook causes depression.

Dr. Carrie Wyland, Ph.D., is a Tulane University psychologist who has studied self-esteem issues.

"One thing we know is people with low self-esteem, first of all, they're more likely to use social comparison online, like Facebook, in looking at how many likes other people are getting, what do other people look like in their pictures, what are other people doing," she said.

Other studies point to social networking inducing envy. Wyland admits some of her students have used the "A-word," as in "anxiety."

"How pressured they feel to respond and be connected all of the time," she said. "Some people say it makes them feel bad about themselves because they're seeing everything everyone else is doing, so it does at least in their stories have this negative effect."

"Imagine being a teenager right now and being flooded with the images that we were affected by even in the small numbers that we saw on television, you know, with five channels and an occasional newspaper, or magazines," said Jenni Watts Evans, a parent educator at Children's Hospital's Parenting Center.

And social media habits can tug at our thoughts, according to users, and experts.

"I just put myself out there and nobody necessarily like, gave thumbs up, or liked it, yeah, definitely, I think it's a natural, human reaction probably," Barad said.

"And if you're interpreting it in a way of well maybe 50 people liked it, what about all the other friends that didn't like it, that might end up making you feel bad about yourself and making those self-esteem problem worse," Wyland said.

But the digital networking may be fuel for those in the egotistical category.

"Look at me in my bikini and things like that, and people post this day in and day out, and that's to draw attention, not only to feel good about themselves, but how other people look at me, look at how I look," said Dr. Esmail.

He added that social media tends to "out" narcissists.

"On a daily basis I hear people making fun of other people because they overdo things online," Esmail said.

In the digital universe, distortions abound.

"Because people are putting out their best self then you feel like oh, you know, maybe I don't look as good, maybe people don't like me as much," Wyland said.

Esmail said self-image issues can stall success.

"In academic confidence, there's a big correlation between academics and how you look. It does impact self-esteem, sociologically, psychologically and grades, and things like that when people don't feel comfortable with how they look," he said.

Experts agreed that females, especially when they are young, tend to be more prone to self-image issues, and it should be taken seriously.

"As parents, we do need to watch for sudden changes in eating habits in dressing habits, in friendships, sleep habits, moodiness, [their] grades at school and when things start to go wrong, instead of being critical ask some pointed questions about how they're feeling," Evans said.

And as a society, exposure to social media is beginning earlier and earlier.

"We see babies, 1- year-olds, 2-year-olds, whose parents think it's really cute, or brag-worthy to show the babies scrolling on the pages of the phone, or the IPad, or even playing simple games - just getting a response out of the machine or the technology. And frankly, it is pretty cute and funny, but we have to be careful about making those things, so important," said Watts.

Because research suggests over time social media can leave negative footprints on users' minds. So experts warn against taking comparisons of oneself and others to an extreme.

"It's a lot more pressure than in the old world. We didn't have to worry, we just had to worry about our face-to-face interaction," Wyland said.

She advises that users cut back on social media participation if it makes them feel badly about themselves.

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