Social Media and Mental Health – Stop Comparing

I took this screenshot and shared it on Instagram the other day because it felt like something that’s been missing from too many people’s thoughts. One of the interesting things that I kept coming back to while reading Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are was this idea that what we actually do on the internet is a whole lot less polished than the things we actually choose to share. The data points to a very different, and darker, place than our Facebook or Instagram profiles would suggest.

Now, I would suggest that this isn’t anything new. We’ve always had more information about what we do when we are alone, the thoughts in our heads, etc. than we do about other people. All of us try to put our best foot forward in public, sharing the glorious details of our vacation, listing the professional successes on our resumes, etc. Social media is just that on steroids. But, I do feel like we’ve kind of forgotten how that social dynamic works. For some reason, we now look at the social media accounts of various people and assume that is wholly representative of their life. When compared to our lives, there’s no contest. Clearly we are doing something wrong.

But we aren’t. The data that companies like Facebook and Google gather about what everyone is doing online show a far different story. Our lives are not all that glamorous. They are filled with anxiety, regret, even hatred. We can barely bring ourselves to interact with other people because we have become so intimidated by the lives of others than social media displays for us. All because we’ve forgotten that one simple truth, that we are all, indeed, screwed up. Whether someone is better at hiding that fact, or tries to camouflage it in all the glamour they can muster, the truth is that when we sit at home feeling less than, anxious, scared, and downright worthless, we are not alone. There are millions of other people doing that same exact thing. It’s just not going to show up on their Instagram feed.

We’re driving ourselves toward mental health and self-worth issues because we are comparing our private lives and thoughts, to everyone else’s public lives. That’s not a fair comparison. Never has been. Never will be.

So while this book is not a very uplifting book in terms of the human condition, I will ask you to take this one thing away from it. When you’re going to Google to search for information on depression, or worried about your appearance, or any other thing that keeps you up late at night and on the internet, don’t think of yourself as a loser compared to everyone else. If the numbers tell us anything, it’s that there’s probably more people who feel like you do than don’t.

We’re all a little screwed up. It’s not just you.

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