Please, stop changing your profile pictures.
Don’t get me wrong — I think that the sentiment expressed by Eve Bowers comes from a truly generous and caring place. I have been touched by how much the Penn community seems to want to reach out and speak about mental illness. The people changing their profile picture have been incredibly courageous and kind. But if this conversation is going to happen, there needs to be mutual understanding of, and clarity on, the facts. While I would never try to speak to everyone suffering from some form of mental illness, I know that I haven’t been alone in my reaction to this movement.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder almost a year ago, and with post-traumatic stress disorder almost eight years ago. But when I look in the mirror, I think I look damn good.
I don’t suffer from an eating disorder or a series of existential crises. I feel depressed not because Facebook is projecting some sense of perfection, but because my brain does not produce serotonin in the same way or in the same amount as most people’s brains do. The cause of my depression is not external, and it certainly isn’t Facebook.
The words used in the article about the Michigan study, and in the many photo captions now mentioning that article, are incredibly misleading. Facebook can, and does, make people sad. It does not, however, make them depressed. Logging on to that ubiquitous site does not send a magical signal to anyone’s brain to alter their chemistry. The Michigan study focused on the “moment-to-moment” satisfaction and well-being of its participants. As the authors of the study are quick to mention, there was no correlation between depression and Facebook usage. If anything, Facebook lets us feel connected to the outside world on those days when we can’t even get out of bed.
If you want to show your support, go hug your friends and tell them that you love them, even if you can’t understand what they’re going through. Don’t treat depression like sadness or insecurity, because it is neither. It’s an illness, and one that affects far more of us than we readily admit.
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