Can Social Media Cure Depression?

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HerdMark Earl's book, Herd, has been a tough read for me. Don't take that the wrong way. It's an amazing book that I found through Hugh McLeod's blog.

I say ‘tough' because it's not a 10,000 foot view. Herd (How to change mass behaviour by harnessing our true nature) is a complex book that thoroughly details a plethora of studies and data to come up with its core premise. As well, Mark Earls is not your average business book author – reading his book makes me feel like I'm reading a book that's totally out of my league (it really is!). If you're an intellectual and appreciate deep, deep thinking and the supporting criteria – this is your book.

If you're faking it like me, it's a great book as well. 🙂 I might mutilate some of the rich content by writing about it here, but what the heck! I'm going for it.

Social Media PillOne topic that Mark touches on is depression. Mark mentions two common causes of depression – a parents' relationship with their child and a person's relationships with other people. I can't help but wonder if Social Media isn't the best alternative to Prozac for curing social ills such as depression. Social Media brings a promise of connecting with others that aren't outside your local circle at home, the office, or even in your neighborhood.

Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, Gather, online Games… all of these applications aren't simply ‘Web 2.0', they are means of communicating with one another. No wonder why social applications are so popular. Isn't it much easier to open up to people with the safety of the Internet between us?

At a conference a few months ago, I remember a woman who asked:

Who are these people and how are they online all hours of the day? Don't they have a life?

It's an interesting perspective!, isn't it? I suspect that for many people, this is their life. This is their connection to others, their hobbies, their interests, their friends and their support. In the past, a ‘loner' really had to live alone. But today, a ‘loner' doesn't have to! He/She can find other loners with the same hobbies!

Some might argue that this type of ‘social' network and its accompanying safety net aren't as healthy as a real relationship and human contact. They may be right… but I'm not sure that people are treating this as an alternative. For many people, this is their only means of communicating.

In High School a friend of mine, Mark, was an amazing artist. He was a big bear of a guy. He had a full beard in 10th grade and wrote comic books with stories of Vampires and Werewolves. I loved hanging out with Mark but I could always tell that he was uncomfortable around everyone – even me. I don't think he was depressed at all, but he was pretty quiet except for the occasional growl (I growled back).

I can honestly imagine Mark being a famous eclectic artist, now, or perhaps living in the wilderness by himself today. I can't help but wonder, though. Had Mark had a blog and an outlet to publish his incredible tales, I think he would have connected with thousands of others with the same interests. He would have had a social network – a network of friends and fans that encouraged and appreciated him.

I'm in no way inferring that we bloggers are escaping depression or loneliness through our writing. We do; however, harness much respect from our readers. I'm no different. If I see someone ganging up on another blogger who is a friend of mine, I'll jump in and defend him. If I hear of a blogger that's taken ill, I genuinely pray for him and his family. And when a blogger stops blogging, I really do miss hearing from them.

Working a 50 to 60 our week and being a single father, I don't have much of “a life” (as defined by the woman I mentioned) outside of my blog and career. Ironically, though, my life online is incredibly supportive, happy and promising. I'm a truly happy (non-medicated but overweight) guy. I don't believe that I'm trying to replace one with another. I think both are just as important and rewarding. In fact, I believe that my ‘online' life has pushed me into being a better communicator in my ‘real' life. It's therapeutic for me to write and it feels great when I get feedback on my writing (even if it's negative).

The truth is, if I didn't have the support network that I have with you folks… I probably could be unhappy and could slip into depression. I'd probably be playing video games by night and making my colleagues miserable during the day.

I'd much rather take my Web 2.0 Pills every day.


  1. 1

    First off I don’t believe that the social Web 2.0 presence stuff like Twitter, blogs and the such are anywhere near a cure for things like depression and I defintely don’t agree with Mark’s reasoning for the causes of depression.

    That said however I do believe that in some ways our intercommunication through the web does help one’s self-esteem, sense of wellbeing and in some cases help one through some really difficult periods in one’s life. I will qualify that though that I don’t place blogs on the same level as Twtitter and the such (I’ll be doing something on that one of these days very soon).

    For example as part of WinExtra I also have an IRC channel that is semi-invite (especially if I know folks actually do IRC in the first place) and one of my close friend’s in the last year realize that he needed to make a serious live change to over come an addiction. He was successfull – well as successful as one can be with an addicition – but he said to me one day that if it wasn’t for the IRC channel and the people there he honestly didn’t know if he would have made it through that very dark time.

    In one other case that just happened one of the longtime mebers of the WinExtra forums and IRC channel stopped posting or showing up in channel. In turn two members in the US became very concerned and began the process of trying to track him done to make sure he was okay. Well today he suddenly appeared in channel and it was like a long lost friend finally coming back home – both for him and us.

    This is community and while it didn’t ogignate in the Web 2.0 world of social networks I will take that over any Facebook or Twitter community anytime. Along with that I think it shows that if an online community has longevity and depth of friends (which if you understand that our forums as small as they might be have been around for six plus years) it does make a part of a person’s life better and gives you a feeling of belonging – which really is all we as human being want from our lives.

  2. 2

    Hi Steven,

    I warned that I may have mutilated Mark’s words… looks like I did! Mark references some articles on depression and doesn’t state that these are definitively the only sources of depression – these are just a couple that were mentioned. The theory of Social Media and it’s opportunity to help depression is not Mark’s, it’s one that I wonder about.

    Awesome story about your community and I agree with you – belonging is ultimately what everyone needs to be healthy. I think Social Media leaves us open to ‘belong’ to communities that we never would have been exposed to otherwise.

    Thanks for the exceptional comment!

  3. 3

    Excellent post, Doug! I find social networking a way to keep in touch with the moods and lives of many people that I consider to be friends, some of them even close friends, and impact other lives that I otherwise would not have enough hours in the day to do so. If I see a friend in need, I am able to quickly get in touch to see what I can do to provide support. I’ve also gained friends (yourself included!) through electronic communication that I otherwise might not have come to know quite as well, which in turn has turned into offline friendships as well.

    P.S. I missed your daily writings while you were busy with your project and transition. I’m so glad to see your posts recently!

    • 4

      Thanks Julie! I’m trying to get back to a good pace but I’m struggling. I work long hours and I’ve added exercise (imagine that!) to the mix. I haven’t figured out the right formula yet – I’m pretty cranky and tired.

      I’ll get there!

  4. 5

    I completely agree with the theory that using social media sites is a good therapeutic thing to do. For me, I have found that it is very good and freeing for me to write about my feelings. Even if no one reads them. There is power in actually writing it down. I also love sites like Facebook and MySpace. They allow people to connect more than they maybe would if they didn’t have that connection. Thanks for posting this information about social media sites. I hope that more and more people find the good in it.

    • 6

      We’re definitely social animals, aren’t we Jason? If there’s no means for us to socialize, I’m confident that that can lead to many social disorders and can cascade into other issues.

      Like you, I really find writing as a great pressure release valve. As well, when someone thanks me or posts about what I’ve written – that does wonders for the ol’ self esteem!

  5. 7

    I feel that the pain from depression can in fact be alleviated as a result of engaging in social media activities. Look at case studies from individuals who partake in Second Life for example. They can create avatars based on the physical attributes they want and connect with people on levels they may never have been able to before. That’s just one example.

    I personally was witness to how social media can help. I was monitoring a MySpace depression group discussion to analyze how people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc. rely on these communities for support. While watching the conversation unfold I watched as an individual discussed harming herself. The community immediately jumped in and helped her out. It was as if the MySpace community acted as her lifeline.

    I think with where social media is going we will see more services become available dedicated to specific niches. Patients Like Me (a past client of mine who I was doing research for at the time) is bringing people suffering from various types of depression together so they can share their experiences and connect with one another. It’s an amazing tool and just goes to show you how powerful social networks are in keeping a persons feet on the ground. The good thing is a social network like PLM only lets people suffering from a condition join in the group. This greatly increases the participation level because they know they aren’t alone.

    Thanks for this great post Doug!

  6. 9

    I think that social media can help people deal with depression, why not?

    My philosophy is that everyone of us, and everything on earth are all connected. We all originated from a single source of energy, and depression is a result of a feeling of being separated from this source.

    Yeah I know it all sounds pretty new agey. But it is a simple concept, and it make sense to me.

    I dont think that social media is a cure, but it does bring people together, and that is what we all crave in our core being.

    My step-daughter spends most of her online time on a site called nexopia. She has met many of her friends, locally and from other places on this social networking site. Social sites help us meet people with similar interests, and are a tool to keep us in touch with current, and old friends.

    I have been reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. This book goes into detail about why we feel depression, anxiety and more.

    He offers up the solution to “live in the now” as a cure. I agree, and also recomment this book for anyone interested in a philisophical guide to happiness.

What do you think?

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