No real 'social' in social networking

While social networking doesn’t directly lead to isolation or depression, it helps aggravate mental issues, say experts.

“Who could have imagined that a person who has 500 or 1,000 friends on Facebook can be lonely? But it is possible as they are aware that these are virtual and even fake friendship,” says Dr Ram Kumar, a Delhi-based psychiatrist and counsellor.

Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are some of the most popular social networking sites, especially among children and youth. Psychiatrists have been stressing that depression among children is rising due to their free movement in cyber world.

Sheema Aleem, a professor of psychology at Jamia Milia Islamia University, believes that social networking sites reflect a person’s real yet virtual life, which leads to psychological ups and downs.

“A person who is popular in real life will gain popularity on Facebook as well. But even people who are not popular in real life expect some popularity on FB, which leads to depression or a sense of loneliness,” she says.

She adds that it is highly unlikely that issues related with social networking can lead to mental illness, but there are 100 per cent chances of such sites aggravating the situation.

Dr Kumar echoes similar views. “Emotions fluctuate with what you do on networking sites these days. A lot of attention also hurts sometimes. If a depressed person decides to explore Facebook or Twitter, the comments and number of ‘likes’ tend to influence the emotion further,” he says.

However, city-based psychologist Dr Madhumati says not many patients, who are depressed due to social networking activities, consult her. “They are a part of the psyche, which enhances patients’ mental imbalance,” he says.

Internet helps if...

On the positive side, experts say social media improves communication skills, but parents and elders in the family play a vital role in limiting access to websites. “They should decide the right time for children to venture into social networking sites, and for how long on a daily or weekly basis,” says Aleem.

Several studies done in India and other countries have found that the hours of face-to-face socialising have declined and use of social media has increased. People who use these sites frequently become isolated.

Gargi College psychology professor Sabeen Rizvi and her students conducted a study in February this year, which highlighted that with the number of people increasing on your ‘friends list’ on Facebook, people tend to disconnect with those who are close to them.

“Such friends are there on the surface level, but when people need someone to discuss real issues, not many come forward. Even suicide attempts have been reported because of Facebook updates. Status updates like ‘Nobody loves me as I am fat’ and ‘I feel lonely’ indicate a call for help,” says Rizvi.

She adds that a psychologist recently discovered a new disorder called ‘Facebook addictive disorder’. “If a person is logged on to FB for more than half-an-hour, they face this disorder.”

Studies have also revealed that parents spend less time with their children, and couples spend less time together even when they live in the same house because they are on the net instead of interacting with each other.

This leads to internet addiction, cellphone-related insomnia and addiction to networking sites, causing or worsening psychological problems.

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