We’re spending increasingly more time on the internet and its technological tendrils have crept into several areas of our life. And while the benefits have undoubtedly been plenty, there’s a dark side to the internet that not many of us are prepared to accept. With the rise of Social Media and its grip on us, human behaviour is beginning to adapt to its new surroundings. Cases of depression are on the rise and claims of Social Media Depression have been making frequent appearances in the media and even within our friend circles. It’s so prevalent that Facebook has officially acknowledged it and has even initiated a programme called 'Help a Friend in Need', which uses technology to provide resources, advice and support to people who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as and their concerned friends and family members in India. Que spoke to clinical and behaviour psychologist, H’vovi Bhagwagar, who runs a private practice called Manashniin Mumbai. Bhagwagar sees social media as a contributing factor to an overall decline in our happiness levels. “Viewing others’ social media posts often incites unhealthy jealousy and envy, people start believing they are worthless and feel hopeless about the future. Not to mention internet addiction is now a serious mental health condition. People who go off social media often have withdrawal symptoms and many people ‘use’ social media like a drug.  Even social media popularity is linked to depression,” she says.

Spot the Signs Early

The use of hastags that indicate their mental state, such as #broken #failure #selfharm #cutting, and anything else that sets off your alarm bells. A study published by US National Library of Medicine shows that there are several self-harming communities on social media and many adolescents turn to them for a sense of belonging to a community that thinks the same way. However, they can be tough to withdraw from once the person is feeling better and looking to return to normal life. Studies have also found that photographs from depressed Instagrammers “tended to be darker in colour, received more comments from the community, were more likely to contain faces and less likely to have a filter applied.”Furthermore, depressed Instagrammers tended to use a lot of the black-and-white filter called Inkwell, and most of their photographs are in darker tones with more greys and blues instead of bright and colourful pictures with friends.

01 how to spot depression SM

According to an article in The Quint, a drastic change in their tone is nearly always a sign that something might be wrong. Short, terse answers when that usually isn’t their style, or uncharacteristically long and rambling posts are both common indicators of mental health deteriorating. Additionally, posts describing impulsive, risky actions or recurring claims of insomnia are some other basic warning signals. If you’re lucky, the signs will be rather obvious. Bhagwagar’s advice is to stay alert to cries for help: “A lot of my clients started hinting about wanting to end their life with posts on social media about either suicide, or loneliness or hopelessness. Often the post will either be a forward or some media news or a blog about suicidal thoughts.  Many even express their ideas in poetry which can be interpreted in many ways but often has underlying depression and suicide themes.”

Here's How You Can Help

It can be difficult and awkward for most people to respond to someone expressing such strong emotions on social media, but don’t underestimate your potential to positively impact their lives with a gesture as simple as reaching out to them. Bhagwagar’s professional advice is fairly straightforward: “It may just be a cry for help! Send a private text message to the person (if a phone call is awkward) saying ‘I was concerned after reading your post. Is all okay?’ If the person opens up to you, offer to meet them in person or even talk over the phone. Then, locate a mental health practitioner for them and gently suggest they need to meet a professional. Whatever you do, try to avoid religious talk and “God will take care of it” messages, as they usually sound empty. Most importantly, don’t be their sounding board for too long, especially if you are not a trained professional yourself, since you may end up doing damage unknowingly.” Like this article? Also see: How to Stay Motivated Even When You Aren’t Feeling It