Is Facebook Hurting Your Mental Health?

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Is Facebook a good thing or a bad thing? Are our lives better or worse because of it?

Such questions are as old as the 11-year-old website, and the latest study has a new answer: It depends — at least when it comes to your mental health.

That’s the answer that university researcher Keelin Howard discussed during the British Sociological Association’s annual conference Wednesday. She conducted what she called the first in-depth study of “severe and enduring” mental health conditions.

Unsure whether you have such a condition? Facebook might be able to help. A 2013 study from the University of Missouri concluded that social media profiles can be used as psychological diagnostic aids and have advantages over patients’ self-reporting.

Howard also has bad news. She explains in a press release:

  • All of her study participants with paranoia and psychosis said Facebook was “particularly problematic” when they were unwell, often because it triggered or worsened their paranoia, which in turn increased their delusions or psychotic thinking.
  • All participants with schizophrenia also said Facebook exacerbated their condition when they were unwell. One study participant, for example, thought mental health workers were using Facebook to spy on him to “either kill (him) or drive (him) insane completely.”
  • Participants with bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, were “far more” active on Facebook while manic, and later regretted and were embarrassed by such Facebook activity. “I hung my head and deleted everything,” one participant said.
  • Some participants experienced anxiety or felt overwhelmed as a result of Facebook use. “This could lead to over-activity, being affected by others’ moods or finding that relative strangers knew personal information about them,” Howard says.
  • Some participants felt more vulnerable as a result of Facebook use, while others experienced bullying.

The good news is that participants eventually learned how to use Facebook to protect and improve their mental health as well as the well-being of others.

“They had developed a variety of protective strategies, such as only ‘friending’ close and trusted friends and taking Facebook breaks,” Howard says.

Such strategies, participants reported, helped them feel less alone and more a part of a community, which in turned helped them recover.

What’s your prognosis for Facebook? Share your thoughts in a comment below or, if it won’t jeopardize your health, on our Facebook page.

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