Search tags such as "depression," "sadness," or "self-harm" on Tumblr and you'll find thousands of images of artistically photographed women staring off into the distance with quotes like, "I'm lost," "The only thing I'm good at is destroying myself," and "I am the problem that's why I have to go." Blending psychological despair and beauty, these pictures also blur the line between commonplace negative emotions and true clinical depression that goes untreated.
Those who share imagery associated with sadness and torment seek out compassion, pity, community, and support, as they look online for recognition and self-affirmation by others who face similar struggles. In an article for The Atlantic, Dr. Mark Reinecke, chief psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, says that the promise of being seen as deep, dark, beautiful, and strong by Tumblr members can be very enticing, leading to more adolescents believing that they are depressed.
“When you look at secular trends and epidemiological research completed over the last several decades, there seems to be a slow and fairly consistent increase in levels of depression for each succeeding generation of teenagers,” says Reinecke.
“In this waterfall of information there is a lack of critical understanding,” Dr. Stan Kutcher, an adolescent psychiatry expert and the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, told The Atlantic. “You see kids self-identifying as having that depression, but they don’t have a depression. They’re upset, or they’re demoralized, or they’re distressed by something...When we use the word ‘depression’ for every negative emotional state, the word loses its meaning.”
The ideas of self-identification and gratification are what many teenagers truly seek. And, in order to find that support and acceptance, young people make an active decision to suffer, and consequentially, gain a community. So, while we don't know for sure whether social media is redefining depression or creating more cases of the disorder, we do know that it's important in any case to redefine the distinction between normal feelings and clinical cases of depression that require professional help — and that starts with education. (The Atlantic)