Social Media and Postpartum Mood Disorders

Article by Andrea Paterson

Social media can be a wonderful thing. A ubiquitous part of the way individuals and organizations communicate, platforms like Facebook and Twitter give everyone access to an unprecedented amount of information and new parents are likely to turn to social media for advice and information. Unfortunately the tendency to use social media as a support system can backfire.  When it comes to the postpartum period new parents are often told to look out for their health. A woman with postpartum depression and anxiety will often be told to make sure she’s feeding herself nutritious foods, caring for her body through exercise, and engaging in self-care activities that feed her. But what about media diets? What we consume on the internet can have a major impact on mental health and during the vulnerable days and months that follow the birth of a baby media consumption can have an especially large impact.

Social media is something I struggle with personally. I am as hooked on Facebook as the next person. I like keeping up with my friends, seeing their photos, and reading up on the latest global news. But since having my son, even after the resolution of most of my postpartum depression and anxiety symptoms,  I have developed a complicated relationship with social media. Nothing has inspired more guilt, self-loathing, and sense of complete failure than becoming a mother. While these feelings undoubtedly would have existed in the absence of Facebook, perusing my daily feed most definitely intensified my anxiety and depression in the postpartum period. The problem with Facebook is that it is a curated account of people’s lives.  Many of my friends use their pages as a place to collect the very best moments of their existence on this planet. Ultimately it becomes a scrapbook that may bring a lot of joy to the user down the road when they get to see all their happiest days in one place. And while I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the chance to shine a light on the positive attributes of their lives, it’s generally true that Facebook does not present a balanced or honest look at life in general and parenthood specifically. As a new mother the discrepancy between my reality and the skewed vision of life I saw on Facebook clashed in devastating ways.  When I saw pictures of happy families enjoying a birthday party, or couples joyfully going on to have a second child without any apparent doubt or when I saw post after post about how “motherhood is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I wouldn’t trade in a single second and I don’t have even a single regret” well, I looked at my own life and felt utterly inadequate.  When I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house it wasn’t helpful to see that other women were packing their kids into those fancy hiking back-packs and doing the Grouse Grind like motherhood hadn’t changed their lives at all. When I felt like motherhood literally had the power to kill me it wasn’t helpful to hear other women say that motherhood is the most wonderful thing ever and they can’t even imagine life without their children. When I was spending another sleepless night wondering if I would ever laugh again it wasn’t helpful to see the latest smiling family photo of people frolicking on the beach.

For some people social media might be uplifting and I’m not suggesting we all shut down our accounts.  What I want to express here is that if Facebook is making you feel worse you can make a choice to avoid it or monitor your usage. The depressing effects of social media have been well documented. This Forbes article discusses the phenomenon of “social comparison” and how it can intensify depression. So along with diet and exercise it can be a huge act of self care to analyze your social media habits. Is the sensationalized news dragging you down? Are your friends’ Facebook news feeds making you feel bad about yourself? Do you feel energized after using social media or do you feel more depressed? If you aren’t gaining a net positive benefit from your usage it might be helpful to slow down your rate of consumption or try a media fast for a week or a month or however long it takes to feel better. There are also ways to use social media that can help you avoid depressing articles. Facebook has a “pages feed” option that allows you to view a selection only of news feeds that you’ve curated. If you keep this limited to news sources, pages, and blogs that have a positive impact on your mental health you can choose to view your Pages Feed and skip over all the other stuff that might drag you down.

Social media awareness isn’t a panacea for mental health disorders. Avoiding Facebook isn’t going to cure PPD/A, but it might go a long way to making your day to day life more bearable as you work towards recovery.

3 Responses to “Social Media and Postpartum Mood Disorders”

  1. Nadine

    Also, how about if we try to share the tough stuff and to ask for help for specific situations? I have had a good response to both of these strategies. Sharing the lows helped me find humour and narrative shape in the story of child rearing and the fact that my stories resonated made me feel less isolated. This was in the early days of fb when we didn’t tailor fb to exude shiny happy people, but I think all users can set an honest example. Tip: whatever you do, make sure status updates you want to share are shared with friends, not just you. There is a direct relationship between my sharing posts with myself and wondering why nobody likes me.

  2. Andrea Paterson

    This is so true! I do find that it makes a difference when people share the full catastrophe (if I can steal a phrase from John Kabat Zinn) of their lives. Being in the trenches together brings people closer, but pretending that only sparkly wonderful things happen in your life can be alienating to others. No narrative has meaning without conflict, so I can completely appreciate your drive to find a story that is resonant and real and has intensity and depth. It would be awesome if Facebook could become a more stable platform for that kind of sharing. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. Erin Heger

    Hi Andrea,

    I enjoyed reading this. I suffered from PPD after my son was born a year ago and had to scale back my social media usage as part of my treatment. I am actually a freelance writer currently working on a piece about the impact of social media on postpartum mood disorders. Would love to talk to you about this topic! Shoot me an email — [email protected]. Thank you!