- Recent research shows that people use a different language on social media to talk about loneliness and depression.
- Understanding the differences between emotional states, on and off social media, can help to formulate better-targeted interventions.
The Language Of Loneliness And Depression On Social Media
A recent study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Baltimore, the US, claimed that the language people use on social media when discussing loneliness and depression can differ in important ways. This suggests that these two emotional states may have distinct psychological and neurobiological correlates.
When people feel lonely, they tend to use more concrete language that reflects their feelings of social disconnection and lack of meaningful social interactions.
For example, they might use words like “alone,” “isolated,” “unconnected,” and “unloved.” They may also use more pronouns like “I” and “me,” suggesting a focus on their own subjective experiences.
In contrast, people experiencing depression tend to use more abstract language that reflects their negative thoughts and feelings about themselves and the world around them. They may use words like “hopeless,” “worthless,” “pointless,” and “meaningless.” They may also use more negative emotion words like “sad,” “angry,” and “anxious.”
The Link Between Loneliness And Depression
Loneliness and depression are closely linked, and they can reinforce each other in a vicious cycle. Loneliness is a risk factor for depression, as people who feel lonely may also experience symptoms of depression—such as low mood, decreased motivation, hopelessness, and helplessness.
Likewise, when people experience depression, they may withdraw from social interactions and feel isolated, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness.
In fact, a 2015 Harvard study found that loneliness and social isolation are major health hazards and can be just as dangerous as smoking or obesity. Especially for people under the age of 65, loneliness and social isolation can have a negative impact on mental health as well, leading to depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems.
Moreover, loneliness and depression share many common features, including negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and feelings of social disconnection.
When people feel lonely, they may also engage in negative self-talk and have negative beliefs about themselves and their ability to form meaningful social connections. These negative beliefs and thoughts can contribute to the development of depression.
How Social Media Increases Depression And Loneliness
While social media use may increase connectedness, research shows that it is actually associated with increased loneliness. Social media use can create an illusion of social connectedness without providing the real social interactions and support that people need.
People may feel like they have many friends and followers online, but in reality, these “shallow” connections may be ‘lonely’ and lacking in the emotional depth and intimacy that comes with face-to-face interactions.
Negative comparison and other harmful social media interactions (like bullying) also trigger depressive symptoms, feelings of inadequacy, and low self-esteem. Social media can also be addictive, and its excessive use can lead to a loss of time and productivity, further exacerbating feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and social withdrawal.
Addressing The Impact Of Loneliness On Mental Health
The aforementioned study highlights the distinct cognitive and neural underpinnings of loneliness and depression. Loneliness is associated with a more concrete, social-cognitive processing style, while depression is linked to a more abstract, self-focused processing style.
It also highlights loneliness’ and depression’s detrimental effects on mental health and well-being, especially the importance of social connection and support in our daily lives.
The study’s researchers look to develop more targeted interventions that address maladaptive social cognitions, strengthen social relationships, and treat other affective distress like depression. They also recommend healthy habits of Internet use and social interaction, both on and off social media.
The researchers elaborated: “Our findings provide evidence that greater loneliness is linked to preoccupation with processing environmental information and self-oriented cognitive activities. Therefore, future interventions [and potential training] should perhaps consider targeting clients’ perceptions, reasoning, cognitions, and relationships, especially in the context of the social environment.”