This week, a member of the Penn community wrote a guest column about the recent Facebook movement started by Eve Bowers. It can certainly be difficult with the stigma surrounding depression and mental illness to speak out as she did. Nonetheless, in her earnest attempt to critique society’s misunderstanding of the etiology of depression, she propagated a reductionist view of the illness: that the cure to mental illness lies in a single pill that modulates a single dysregulated neurotransmitter (I’m not putting antidepressants down — I take them myself, and they have undoubtedly saved my life).
I only bring this up because I feel that many readers struggling with depression can best help themselves with a multifaceted treatment plan, as depression is not just one thing.
The claim that depression is simply a neurochemical imbalance is false. We don’t know exactly what causes depression partly because there isn’t one answer. The illness stems from a mixture of genetic susceptibility, neurobiological dysfunction, cognitive style and exposure to environmental stressors.
It’s natural to be upset when people seem to claim Facebook is causing depression — because that’s obviously not true. It is a sensitive topic. I know my struggle with this illness has been trivialized far too many times to count. For some, depression may largely stem from a neurochemical imbalance, but for others, social media can play a big role in aggravating negative ideation.
We seem to project our “best selves” on Facebook — we can be exactly who we want to be. We can project an image that may diverge from who we really are. Who could ever be as cool as their Facebook depicts them as? Or be as consistently witty as their Twitter? And so on and so forth.
Browsing Facebook, in my opinion, can aggravate depressive, self-defeating ideation.
Facebook invites us to share our highlight reels.
But real life is not a highlight reel.
Real life is messy. And when one unconsciously compares their real life with a “Facebook life,” the dissonance produces disillusionment.
This is obviously not uniformly the case for everyone. Some people really benefit from Facebook and are unencumbered by the aforementioned phenomenon. But for many depressives who are prone to filtering stimuli through a negative light, social media can be a dangerous thing. So to discredit it as a mediating factor (amongst many other factors) would be unfair.
And in terms of the slacktivist change-your-profile movement, I admit at first I was skeptical: yet another transient Facebook fad that isn’t going to produce any tangible social change. But it looks like it has gotten people talking. And that’s the point anyway, right?
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