Dealing with depression is hard. Dealing with depression when you’re a social media professional brings its own set of challenges and hurdles, doesn’t it?
Some of you reading this just felt that to your core. Others aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about and for you, I’ve got some juicy insider-only dish to share.
It’s estimated that 6.7 million American adults have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year, and that data was pre-pandemic. Which means it’s likely that:
One out every five of your Facebook friends in the U.S. have been depressed within the last year.
I find that to be simultaneously shocking yet unsurprising.
The kicker is that we know platforms like Facebook and Instagram are troublesome when it comes to mental health.
Now, it’s too complex a system to say something as patently false and overreaching as, “Facebook will trigger depression.” It depends on the individual using social media, how long they’re using a particular platform, how they’re using it and who they’re connected to, and outside context and stimuli, such as how things are going in their life outside of social media. In fact, some studies have shown there are actual benefits to prolonged social media use.
“Social media is very heterogeneous. In some kids it can be very beneficial, and in other kids it can be very detrimental,” said the author of that study, Dr. Martin Paulus of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research. “But we still don’t understand which group of kids benefit from it and which group of kids may be harmed by it.”
we still don’t understand which group of kids
That’s the troublesome part, isn’t it? We don’t know what triggers or worsens depressive behaviors, and we seem unable to predict who might benefit or be harmed by social media. But, if you’ve chosen social media marketing or digital marketing as a profession, you may not have a choice.
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or LinkedIn are where you must, by definition, spend time creating content, sharing, networking, researching, and engaging, either on behalf of yourself or other brands or clients you represent.
“When you’re surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you’re by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don’t feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you’re really alone.”
― Fiona Apple
For some, it can become a constant battle to get in and get out. To log on, get your work done, and try to ignore the posts from friends, the notifications of things missed, the tease of happiness that other people are experiencing and, seemingly, you’re not.
And there’s a deeper challenge. I’ve talked in the past about the fact that every social network is, in itself, a microcosm of society in which societal norms and mores are formed – in other words, there’s an expectation for how someone will use and act upon a social network that can be different than in, say, your neighborhood.
For instance, if I see something that you shared to Facebook some time in the past – could be months ago – and I leave a comment on that post, there’s an expectation that you’ll react or reply to my comment, isn’t there? An unspoken rule (that’s a “norm”) that you will acknowledge my engagement with your post, particularly if I asked a question or said something complimentary.
But what if you aren’t in the mood to respond?
The act of my social media engagement and the nagging notification on your app icon insists that you use already-precious and limited energy and emotional reservoirs to respond. But of course if you’re feeling depressed and don’t want to respond, that’s not something you can just say, is it? You can’t reply to a comment, “Sorry, I’m not in the mood to reply today because I’m depressed.” So you either muster up the strength to tap in a reply, or you say nothing and risk being seen as cold and aloof.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Some of you relate to what I just said. Others don’t get it, and that’s OK. You perhaps haven’t experienced it and don’t understand why the very idea of replying to tweet right now might be exhausting. So let’s back up a moment.
What Is Depression?
According to Healthline, “Depression is classified as a mood disorder. It may be described as feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities.” It went on to point out that, “Though depression and grief share some features, depression is different from grief felt after losing a loved one or sadness felt after a traumatic life event. Depression usually involves self-loathing or a loss of self-esteem, while grief typically does not.” And, most importantly, “Depression is considered a serious medical condition that can get worse without proper treatment.”
Depression can include any or all of the following:
- Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
- Pessimism and hopelessness
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
- Crankiness or irritability
- Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won’t go away
- Digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
Healthline also shared the fact that there are different kinds of depression:
What’s the most physically tiring thing you’ve ever done in your life?
Maybe it was running your first marathon, or maybe it was just running through your neighborhood chasing a stubborn and naughty puppy. For me, it was T.O.S.R.V. – Tour of the Scioto River Valley – a hundred-mile bike ride from Columbus, Ohio down to Portsmouth on a Saturday where we spent the night then road back the next day alongside thousands of other riders. I rode over 200 miles that weekend and was so tired at the end I don’t even remember how I got home.
Got your own tiring experience in mind? Great. Now imagine that, as soon as you were finished doing that thing you were doing, you came home to discover that two uninvited squirrels had gotten into your house through an open window and utterly destroyed the place trying to find their way back out. Food pulled out of the pantry and all over the floor. Lamps and chairs knocked over. Trash everywhere. Maybe you can summon the strength to clean all of that up right at that moment but most of you, I’m guessing, would have collapsed on their bed and left the mess for the next morning, hoping it was just a bad dream.
If you can imagine that, you can begin to imagine what it’s like for someone going through a depressive episode who’s now been asked to ‘be cheerful’ on social media or, God forbid, show up for a Zoom or live stream.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Every person who faces depression faces unique challenges and circumstances and this is not intended to minimize or compare what others go through. I’m merely walking through what folks who work professionally in and around social media often struggle with since that’s a big part of what I’ve been going through.
Context & Backstory
First and foremost, let me be clear that I am not a trained professional or expert on depression in any way. This is an opinion-piece based on my experience and if you’re looking for professional advice or expert information, here are some resources I can recommend:
- WebMD Depression Health Center
- Help With Depression from the APA
- If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Second, I have not been clinically diagnosed with depression. This is a self-diagnoses and while that typically would hold as much weight as, “let me tell you my conspiracy theory” in my defense, I feel as though this is something that’s been developing over the past year. Could it be sadness or disappointment or burn-out or fatigue or pharmaceutical or any number of other things? Sure. But if you’re debating in your mind whether or not I, or anyone else, is truly depressed… you’re missing the point.
Your job is to support, not critique or diagnose.
Personally, I’m self-aware enough to be able to look back at recent months and note changes in behavior and feelings and mental acuity. Physically, I’m eating better and am healthier than I’ve been in years, so it’s nothing that can be explained away by a change in diet or environment. There’ve been personal and professional changes and setbacks which clearly could be triggers but even taken en masse seem unlikely to be “the cause” for what’s been going on. So I’ve been doing a lot of reading and more thinking than’s good for me, in search of answers and truth and help.
How To Help A Depressed Social Media Colleague
Yeah I don’t know.
That’s the perspective I needed to take – that I didn’t have answers – and you’ll find that as a friend or colleague to someone who is experiencing a depressive period and still trying to be a useful and productive marketer, that’s probably the attitude you’re going to have to take too. You don’t know, but you’re here for it. For them.
It helps that you’re here, now, taking the time to learn and understand. You may not understand the details of what they’re experiencing, but you can definitely understand conceptually the issues I’ve been talking about here and can read more in the resources linked above.
Someone going through an episode may be battling feelings of isolation, self-loathing, lack of esteem… they may have imposter syndrome in spades… and as a result they may withdraw from you and your mutual friends. At one level, they may not feel worthy of your attention, and at another level feel embarrassed to be going through such an issue. And at a deeper level still, hope that their withdrawal is the very act that gets someone to pay attention to them in the first place.
“Some friends don’t understand this. They don’t understand how desperate I am to have someone say, I love you and I support you just the way you are because you’re wonderful just the way you are. They don’t understand that I can’t remember anyone ever saying that to me. I am so demanding and difficult for my friends because I want to crumble and fall apart before them so that they will love me even though I am no fun, lying in bed, crying all the time, not moving. Depression is all about If you loved me you would.”
― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
If you want to help someone whom you know or suspect is depressed, the bottom line is to be there for them. You don’t need to be an expert on depression, you just need to be the friend they need. That might mean being the best possible listener while they do a horrifically mangled job of trying to explain everything that’s bothering them which won’t make sense but that’s ok, or it might mean creating something to do or talk about that has nothing to do with how they’re feeling at the moment yet still creates a space in which they’re not alone and can feel wanted and appreciated.
Here are a few remote/virtual ideas for friends who can’t take friends out for coffee or lunch:
- A good old-fashioned phone call
- Virtual escape room with a few good friends
- Collect video snippets from mutual friends sharing how they met your friend or what they appreciate most, and create a montage
- Check in regularly
There’s nothing worse for someone who feels isolated than for that feeling to be reinforced by silence from friends. If I don’t say anything and no one asks about me, that just validates all of my fears and thoughts.
For a colleague that’s struggling, consider how you can help them shoulder the burden of their work for a while. Maybe there’s something you can do to help them with their job, or maybe it’s just sending them food so they don’t have to think about their next meal.
Social media managers can also use tools and tactics to help ensure their time on platforms is as minimal as possible.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
― Stephen Fry
I don’t know if I’ve done an adequate job or not of doing anything other than mangling this topic, but my hope is that at a minimum, I’ve given those closest to me a little more insight into my struggles, and perhaps more than that. If you found this perspective helpful and informative, I hope it’s something you’ll share. I hope that if you, personally, are going through something similar, you might summon the courage to share this with the people you love – the people that really and truly love you – so that you give them a chance to show you that. And that’s hard. God I know that’s hard. But if you share this article with them right now and give them a chance, you won’t regret it.