Given the rise of tech addiction, especially among today’s Millennials, the effect of all of our interactions on social media has become a focal point for researchers of mental health. So far, the results have not been good.
Several studies have shown that comparing your life to the happy-go-lucky lives portrayed on Instagram and Facebook can lower your self-esteem and life satisfaction, and thereby make you feel more lonely, anxious, and depressed. And Reddit and Twitter are known to be toxic environments where trolls roam as online bullies.
However, as it turns out, social media isn’t all bad, as it can also function as a support system among strangers.
We’ve all seen those heartwarming stories on Twitter of people around the world bandying together to help someone, like when the Internet united to find a discontinued tape for a man’s autistic son. There’s also awesome stories, like this couple’s viral hiking proposal, or the chivalrous way a man responded to another man asking out his girlfriend, that restore our faith in humanity. One study even found that as much as Instagram can actually help you reach your fitness goals when you’re bolstered by support by an online community.
A study published this month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has found that some subreddits can actually help people fight depression and other mental health issues. University of Utah researchers analyzed over two million posts made by active members on five subreddits: r/depression, r/bipolar, r/schizophrenia, r/loseit (a subreddit that focuses on weight loss), r/happy, and r/bodybuilding made between October 2007 to May 2015.
In comparison to the r/happy and r/bodybuilding subreddits, the r/depression, r/bipolar, and r/schizophrenia subreddits included a lot more negative language, and the users seemed to have a harder time expressing their thoughts and feelings. Over time, however, they found that members seemed to get better and expressing their feelings, and noted a decrease in negative language.
“Our results also suggest that participating in these platforms has the potential to improve members’ written communication,” the study says. “Despite prolonged interactions with other depressed individuals, r/depression members’ emotional states were found to have become more positive.”
It’s easy to see why this would be the case. While plenty of IRL support groups exist for people struggling with mental health issues, those suffering from social anxiety, trauma, or even just low-self esteem may find it harder to express themselves in public than in the relative safety of the Internet. By continuing to post, they also develop their ability to verbalize their emotions. Not to mention, as scathing as it can sometimes be, even Reddit has the potential to provide the kind of support from strangers that can help someone can get through a tough time. We witnessed that firsthand when we wrote about a man who went viral on Reddit for losing “70 pounds of weight and sadness.” Users lavished him with praise and even said he looked like a Disney prince.
All of which is to say that if you are emotionally struggling with something, seeking help in a specific subreddit might not be a bad way to go. And for more inspiration and guidance on beating the sads, check out How Dwayne Johnson Overcame His Crippling Depression.
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