Too Much Facebook Makes Girls Depressed... Or Depressed Girls Use Facebook?

from the cause?-effect? dept

And here's another bit of a moral panic-inducing study about social networking -- with a professor at Stony Brook University suggesting that girls who do more regular communicating via Facebook, SMS, email and other tools, are more likely to be depressed. The study's authors suggest that girls get stuck in a rut communicating about their problems, reinforcing those problems and depressing the kids. The more they discussed their romantic ups and downs, the more likely they were to be depressed.

Of course, aren't there questions about cause and effect here? Wouldn't a more reasonable explanation be that those who were already more depressed are more likely to make use of these tools to wallow in their depression?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Dave, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 3:11pm

    THere's the other side

    Yes, it's likely that depressed girls use Facebook to talk about it.

    That being said, two depressed people (or 10) may have the effect of depressing each other further by pointing out problems, or perceived problems, that they hadn't thought of.

    That being said, correlation proves only that things correlate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Xiera, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 3:12pm

    I think Mike's right here, due to the broad scope of the study -- the study got the cause-and-effect backwards.

    That said, I think girls (and even guys) who use facebook obsessively to "facebook stalk" others put themselves at risk to be hurt more easily, as tracking the object of their affection is easier. Granted, this is risk in regular everyday life too, but facebook makes it easier. Not a problem with the technology; a problem with the use thereof.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Slackr, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 4:06pm

    Of course no one was ever depressed before all this new technology made it easier to talk about it (more?). 83 girls is hardly a huge study - but enough to scaremonger and demonise technology. I'll bet if we take away their communication devices we could solve it all!

    There are a multiplicity of factors involved in depression, onset, symptoms, behaviour adaption. Even the Prozac, the 'magic bullet', couldn't cure us (although it undoubtedly helped). About the only useful thing in this study is that the parents should be well placed to get the help for their teens that need it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    bigpicture, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 4:43pm

    Re: THere's the other side

    Exactly the point that I made the last time he posted on this subject. It's not the tool but the user of the tool, "guns don't kill people, people kill people by using guns".

    People become what they think about all day long. Depressing thoughts, depressed people. "My clothes are not as stylish as hers", "Her hair is more shiny than mine", "my boyfriend dumped me" etc. etc.

    Is it Facebook that does this? Maybe it's a fixating or magnifying tool I don't know, but it does not create the thoughts, because that is a life direction cultural function thing. Look at TV ads, teen magazines etc. and there you have it. The general message on impressionable minds is "you are not good enough, you need this thing to make you better and more attractive and lovable".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    William, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 4:56pm

    Maybe they were already depressed and that is why they are sitting around the house using facebook all time. Or maybe shying away from human contact is a trait of people who are more likely to become depressed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    friend of depressed girls, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 4:59pm

    If girls didn't wallow in their troubles on Facebook, they would no doubt spend much of tthat effort calling those same friends and wallowing in their troubles, which is highly more annoying for all involved.

    Also, something could be said for the fact that articulating one's feelings in words is probably a more concise and theraputic way of expressing one's emotions, rather than talking in loops or outbursts, as people tend to do when verbally airing negative emotions.

    Xiera--I'm not convinced entirely by your "Facebook stalking" point. While obsession is a bad habit regardless of form, I think there maybe some people who may spend less time obsessing because they can glance into the object of affection's life via Facebook, as opposed to endlessly daydreaming or conjuring up suspicions and jealous fantasies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Mogilny, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 5:04pm

    Dumb studies

    Lets break down the il-logic.

    If a significant number of (adjective) subjects use (object), then (object) makes people (adjective).

    This logic is FAULTY. If you don't see it, do a world a favor, stay away from scientific research.

    Here is another example:
    People who drink a glass of wine a day have longer life expectancy, therefore, a glass of wine a day increase life expectancy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Allen (profile), Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 5:07pm

    Irony

    And here I was thinking that Boys are supposed to have more emotional problems because they don't talk about them.

    Its sad when some half educated journalist confuses correlation with causation but frightening when a supposed learned academic does the same thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Jill, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 5:15pm

    "Of course no one was ever depressed before all this new technology made it easier to talk about it (more?). 83 girls is hardly a huge study - but enough to scaremonger and demonise technology. I'll bet if we take away their communication devices we could solve it all!

    There are a multiplicity of factors involved in depression, onset, symptoms, behaviour adaption. Even the Prozac, the 'magic bullet', couldn't cure us (although it undoubtedly helped). About the only useful thing in this study is that the parents should be well placed to get the help for their teens that need it."



    I completely and entirely disagree. as a girl who has suffered through depression, and been hospitalized, I've known exactly what facebook does to me. Yes, it can cause my ups and downs, but taking it away does NOT solve all of your problems. In some aspects, it can make it more difficult, because when you need to vent most, and seek comfort, it's harder to instantly reach out to people. I deleted my facebook for a few months, and then restored it because in terms of facebook in comparison to my depression, the positives outweighed the negatives.
    People had depression long before facebook- there just wasn't very much information about it, and hardly any people were diagnosed at all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Sean Nicoplle, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 6:16pm

    Or perhaps?

    Or perhaps cause and effect are not necessary mutually exclusive? By which I mean, perhaps a person struggling with depression may resort to social media applications as a pseudo-coping skill, the consequences of which cannot be ignored. Although it may serve as a coping strategy, it also serves the purpose of creating a system in which depression is more pervasive.

    The etiology of psychopathology is quite convoluted and complex. However, just because a single factor does not cause a single psychopathology does not imply that it does not contribute. In fact, there are very few (probably countable with a single digit) mental disorders that can be accounted for by a single factor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Sam, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 7:31pm

    Yes, its true academic studies are typically narrow in scope and hard to generalize or apply to wider society, but I am certain researchers at Stony Brook are pretty familiar with causal fallacies, variables, hypotheses testing and so on.

    Please don't blindly criticize a legitimate, peer reviewed study that you only read online through CNet, well at least until you get your Doctorate and tenure, then you can say whatever you want.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Slackr, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 8:56pm

    Jill: Sorry if you misunderstood my sarcasm. Having re-read my post I see that it perhaps wasn't pointed enough.

    I have suffered with the depths of depression so would never wish to add to any one's struggling to battle it. I went through undiagnosed hell. Having also gone on to study psychology and psychotherapy at graduate and post graduate level I've seen it from both sides.

    I only really had two points: (1) there is no magic bullet or magic pill for this. Medications like prozac will help but they are not the be all and end all. (2) Taking away someone's ability to communicate is not a magic bullet either, regardless of what media is used (cell phone, one-to-one talking, pen and paper, forums etc).

    It is unfortunate that a small probing study (yes conducted by a University) leads to summarised briefs that pop-pscyhology bloggers and reporters further simplify for the mass media. It is even worse that it then gets used as ammunition to target or demonise technology.

    The study makes no mention of whether social networking may be a legimate source of expanding teens exposure to other sources of information outside of their friends with poor problem solving skills.

    Sam: for the record just because I have letters after my name or I've published a book someone else (with letters after their names too) likes, doesn't make me right.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 10:22pm

    Re:

    Please don't blindly criticize a legitimate, peer reviewed study that you only read online through CNet, well at least until you get your Doctorate and tenure, then you can say whatever you want.

    I love commenters who insist no one except those with special qualifications can critique a study.

    You know how to tell who you should ignore? Anyone who says you can't say anything.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 10:48pm

    Re:

    The simple fact is they studied ONLY 83 girls (a very small pool for psychological and human behavior research), and reviewed their cases a year apart, then made conclusions about whether their communication through tech media had an effect on their depression. They could not possibly have a clear picture about what went on in the lives of those girls during that year with such a loosely controlled and monitored viewpoint; the girls may have forgotten about major life events that effected their depression. Whether the researches know this is not the question, I am certain they know such research does nothing but 'suggest possibilities'... but the general public (which has never participated in or reviewed research for its short comings) does not know that and regularly understands research like this to represent absolute truthful findings. Every researcher knows they must take everyone else's reported findings 'with a grain of salt' because the missing information is what will get you into trouble if you assume it is all correct. No research ever published is perfect. In the words of Albert Einstein (or close enough): "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2009 @ 4:43am

    No, no, no, NO!!!

    You're blaming the victim. It is obvious to everyone that people are not responsible for their own problems. You are trying to push us down a dangerous road of personal responsibility and self-respect. All problems have the same root source(s): the government, society & technology. We simply will not stand for the notion that these girls aren't being victimized by Facebook.

    /me runs panicked through the streets, looking for a silly law to save him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2009 @ 12:47pm

    see why I always stay positive. If you're positive you reinforce positive thought and thus become happier over all

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Xiera, Feb 3rd, 2009 @ 4:48pm

    Re:

    Delayed response on my part, but a good point that I had failed to consider. I know a lot of people where I went to school would get themselves worked up about easily-discovered on-goings in someone else's life. I guess I really don't know how the same situation would be without facebook making it so easy.

    But again, the problem is not the technology, it's the use thereof.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Jason Baxter, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 11:00am

    Facebook and Myspace are the reason behind a social impedement in the public world. Its full of people caught in the "Look-at-me" Generation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 11:14am

    This is so stupid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Cindy, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 11:22am

    Facebook and depression

    The point everyone seems to be overlooking is that historically when girls were depressed they talked to other girlfriends on the phone, or they reached out to their siblings or parents. These parties typically were not in the same depressed state and were able to provide the voice of reason. A normal friend can offer comfort, they can point out your good points and help you heal. However when writing about it often on Face book, only those also suffering reply and the logic process becomes very distorted in these dialogues as the voice of reason has now been replaced by someone wallowing in their own pain. Thus sending the recipient further into depression. Misery loves company and on such a format, Face book, becomes a real tool to allow your emotions to run unchecked by rational peers or caregivers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Donna Esbensen, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 12:54pm

    Facebook and depression please!

    I agree with you about it being the other way around. Girls who are depressed are more likely to spend a lot of time on facebook because they have no urge to face the world, and yes they want to wallow in their problems. The term "misery loves company" well that is a perfect explanation. Since when are girls expressing themselves the cause a depression. I have two teenage girls of my own and I work with teenage girls every day. What we need to do is find a way to communicate with our girls to help them get through any problems they may have. Dont jump to conclusions about why they are depressed. Dont bash the one thing that gives them comfort.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Connie Lou, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 1:02pm

    Girl's Depression Facebook

    I think it is far more likely that people that tend towards chronic depression may become more depressed by using facebook because often the retelling of the things that disturb them stirs up depression and anxiety and focuses on the problem without focusing on the solution. If one would go on to focus on possible solutions one might be more hopeful. However when people are in the belly of the beast of depression they don't tend to be able to think positively and tend towards negativity. Therefore they don't see the solution or an end in sight as far as their problem goes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    mohammed, Feb 5th, 2009 @ 1:41am

    chating on face book

    I honestly think that you are more likely to find depressed ladies on face book chating more because it is the only way they can show how depressed they are without people they know looking at them. chating with someone you donot know makes most problems just go away that is why they seem to chat for a more longer period face book is the only medium they can run away from the real world and engage in meanifuk discussions with friends

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2009 @ 1:52am

    The problems are there... pointing out problems create a state of attitude reinforcement, but not depression; Two depressed girls who hate the world together can become friends (friends who share similar world view), but one girl that nobody listens to is more likely to be depressed; we often blame media and tools for our psychological problems, we have a huge ping-pong, do or don't game (talk to others about it-don't talk about it), but the truth is that the things depress the vast majority of us, boy or girl, adult or not, are more simple than a mind trick... and harder to change. This issues will not change with merely not being on Facebook; Do I feel like in the center of a very unfair or painful world? Do I feel like any close day will be the day of my complete humiliation or physical pain? (After all we will die...); Do I feel ugly or incapable? (and often I am ugly and incapable for an intended goal); Trying to change goals to a be more realistic is a reasonable strategy, but for some (say half of us) is not enough simply because we were raised with ideas that have been coined as "truth", and we embrace these ideas so much they affect our pleasure pathways... if we lower our expectations so much, we become "not truth" and we have learned privileges and satisfaction (and peace of mind and control)come only with being "true to oneself"- some doctors ask us to cheat... For example, one may believe that he/she will be a professional doctor, but do so after thinking what professional is regarded as valued and economically enabling to see the beautiful world with his mate... but say this person comes from a family that loved this person but never specifically motivated any member in health sciences (perhaps because they themselves doesn't know how to), but they said "you have to go to college, and earn a living.It is very important to work hard"- Although beautiful, is not enough because along the ride this person will then need to make sacrifices for which no one has ever prepared him/her! Then the person tries what she/he thinks is "hard"... imagine that's not enough to get to med school or to do well on it... depression is likely to follow- based on one simple thing... incapacity of us to really guide ourselves for the pat of "true happiness" (The incapacity may some times be in our definition of "true happiness", but don't get me wrong... what if there is a "true path"? I don't think- and I know this we become apparent easily- that "any path will do" because in the end our needs will cry out... in the end our more reasonable solution is to understand what things are really important in life and HOW TO OBTAIN THEM, DEFINING THE LIFESTYLE TO OBTAIN THEM WITH THE MOTIVATION TO OBTAIN THEM- BUT: WHO WILL DECIDE WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR EACH PERSON AND TEACH THAT PERSON THE WAY? THAT"S A REAL TOUGH ONE... FACEBOOK IS NOTHING COMPARE TO THAT ISSUE... THE REAL ONE

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Lou, Aug 27th, 2009 @ 6:09am

    Re: Re: THere's the other side

    Very good points "BigPicture".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Jason, Jul 18th, 2010 @ 7:36am

    Re: Or perhaps?

    Exactly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This