Nearly seven million people feel depressed when they see friends’ lives on social media, according to research that found sites like Facebook and Twitter can lead to a mindset of sadness and exclusion.
One in five (20%) people said they feel depressed by seeing their friend’s lives online in the research carried out by Opinium, as an expert warned people to “get some control back” by reducing time spent on social media.
This equates to 6.9 million people who feel depressed by what researchers called ‘the game of life’ online: constantly comparing yourself to other people's posts, and presenting your own life in frequent updates.
More than half of those surveyed (56%) said they feel pressured to constantly use social media and a tenth (10%) said they felt depressed when they saw friends enjoying themselves when they had nothing better to do. The same proportion felt unhappy when they saw friends doing 'better' than them in terms of career, family or wealth.
Nearly one in ten (9%) said they felt depressed seeing the "exciting" lives their friends and contacts appeared to have.
The research found that one in ten say they are embarrassed if a social media post doesn’t get any likes, favourites, retweets or comments, while one in six 18-34 year olds have even taken a post down if it hasn’t received any interaction.
The survey, commissioned by Privilege Home Insurance, revealed other negative behaviours: the majority of social media users (56%) admitted to 'stalking' old friends, work colleagues and ex-partners online, while 7% of people said they had never put a photo up of themselves without first retouching it, or adding a filter.
Martin Talks, the founder of Digital Detoxing which runs ‘unplugging’ programmes, told HuffPost UK: “I think there is a strong correlation between people getting depressed because they think [other people] are having a better time online and the length of time people spend online.”
Talks suggested analysing the kind of friends you have on Facebook: “If they are the sort that are constantly post their perfect lives, maybe you could have a word, or indeed I would de-friend a lot of people.
“They’re not your friends anyway, people don’t really have that many friends, so Facebook’s a fiction anyway, we all know that. The key thing is to try and get some control back to one’s life in this matter."
Close to a third (28%) or people in the survey said they feel pressure to upload interesting content, and 21% feel pushed to keep their profile picture updated.
Feeling compelled to check what their friends are up to was an experience of 40% of those surveyed, and over a third (36%) feel obligated to like a friend’s profile picture, photos, comments, posts or tweets.
Talks from Digital Detox said: “From my point of view, the key thing is just to cut down the amount of time you spend on social media. I think it would perfect if you could delete social media apps from your phones. We look at our phone on average around 150 times a day.
“That is crazy, I think we’ll look back in years to come and think that it is lunacy to be staring at our screens that often.”
Talks, who advocates a complete ‘digital detox’ where people disconnect from digital devices entirely, said that a less extreme measure was to “just have a bit of discipline about it: don’t always be drawn by the lure of the beep, buzz and bing of your phone.
“Just look at it at defined times, not first thing in the morning, and not last thing at night because that starts the day badly and ends it badly.”
The research also asked respondents about unwritten rules on social media, finding that habits like wishing a friend a ‘public’ Happy Birthday on social media was something a quarter (25%) feel they have to do so even if they have already seen or spoken to the person whose birthday it is.
A similar number (22 per cent) said they feel they must accept a friend request from a work colleague.
Opinium spoke to 2,018 adults in the UK in March and calculated the 6.9 million estimate by expressing the percentage as a figure of the total number of social media users in the country.