Checking Facebook? How Depressing

Facebook users, beware. Too much time on the mega-popular social website can lead to depression, according to researchers at the University of Houston.

If you spend hours checking your Facebook, you may begin experiencing depressive symptoms. The dark mood isn’t caused by reading too many bad news posts from your Facebook friends. More likely, it is caused by the tendency to compare yourself to your friends who post news of their latest professional successes and photos of their most recent vacation adventures.

The University of Houston researchers conducted two studies to assess how mental health is affected when Facebook users read their friends’ posts. The results are not surprising. Study participants showed symptoms of depression after spending hours reading friends’ Facebook posts. The reason for this is the tendency of people to compare themselves to their friends and colleagues who seem superior, a phenomenon known as “negative social comparison.”

When individuals feel envious, inferior or inadequate by their friends’ and colleagues accomplishments, they are making a negative social comparison. Psychologists have studied this phenomenon for years. However, the University of Houston studies are the first to examine the tendency to compare oneself to one’s peers in the context of social media sites.

The University of Houston studies produced another unsurprising conclusion. Participants who spent large amounts of time on Facebook also demonstrated depressive symptoms. The reason for this is the social isolation that goes hand-in-hand with extensive computer usage. Mental health professionals have long warned of the dangers of social isolation on one’s attitude and outlook. The University of Houston studies show that virtual human interaction via status updates, “likes,” and sharing does nothing to reduce the sense of isolation that exists staring at a computer screen for hours.

Facebook has over 900 million users for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is a convenient way to keep friends and family informed of the latest news. While it is becoming more acceptable to deliver bad news on Facebook, it is predominantly filled with status updates made by people who want to show off their best selves to the world. Therefore, it is not surprising that some people would feel inadequate by comparison.

The cure for Facebook depression? Cute puppy videos.

[Image Courtesy of Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]