Study finds some Facebook users are using it as emotional therapy

13 Aug 2018

Person logging on to Facebook. Image: kostasgr/Shutterstock

Despite a decline in monthly users, a study has found that some adults with mental health issues are disproportionately using Facebook to solve their problems.

Facebook has appeared regularly in the headlines of late regarding its shortcomings in moderating content and some considerable oversight when it comes to its users’ data privacy.

With these scandals fresh in the minds of users and many now seeking alternatives, the social network’s monthly users took a hit in recent months.

Now, a new study conducted by researchers at NUI Galway’s School of Psychology is claiming that adult Facebook users who are characterised by high levels of insecurity and self-esteem issues may be using the platform as a way of fulfilling their need for attachment.

This means that when such a person experiences high levels of psychological stress – such as anxiety, stress or depression – they turn to Facebook rather than talking about their problems. This includes compulsively looking at other people’s photos and using photo filters to hide their true feelings.

The study asked 700 Facebook users to complete a series of online questionnaires, which measured depression, self-esteem, attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety along with aspects of the respondents’ specific Facebook use.

After looking through the data, the team found that those with high levels of attachment anxiety were more likely to compare themselves with others and share edited photos of themselves when in a heightened emotional state. These users were also more likely to see their sleep and social relationships take a hit as a result.

Finding another answer

“Our study is the first to apply attachment theory to better understand why people might engage with Facebook in problematic ways,” said Dr Sally Flynn, lead author of the study.

“Our findings suggest that Facebook may be used by some to fulfil fundamental attachment needs, especially for those with low self-esteem who are experiencing psychological distress.”

The researchers suggested that mental health professionals take their clients’ social media habits into consideration when working therapeutically with them.

“For example, a person who disclosed their personal problems on Facebook when in a heightened emotional state may feel even worse if they are disappointed by the quantity and quality of the feedback that they receive from their online peers,” Flynn said.

Co-author of the paper, Dr Kiran Sarma, warned however that this not apply to all Facebook users.

“It is important to stress that the research does not suggest that there is something damaging about Facebook or other social media services but, rather, some people network online in ways that could be considered maladaptive, increasing distress and vulnerability,” he said.

Person logging on to Facebook. Image: kostasgr/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic