Why hyper-real social media is causing a rise in depression
NEXT time you look at an Instagram photo and think you see a perfect person living the perfect life: think again.
A doctor whose thesis investigated how social networking is enabling an increase of narcissism and violence in teens and a former Noosa model and Instagram influencer are encouraging young people not to get swept away in the world of social media, where the majority of the glimpses we get into people's lives are only the best snippets.
Dr Lynette Maguire said research shows that the more a person accesses social media, the more depressed they become due to Social Comparison Theory, where we compare ourselves to others.
"And when the 'others' over-emphasise things or only post the overtly fabulous things about their lives, we compare and find our life is deficient - therefore we get depressed," she said.
"Don't believe all you read and see on social media, the truth is probably much estranged from the fiction."
Dr Maguire said young people were in a "liminal space", a doorway between childhood and adulthood, and they were "trying to figure out how to adult."
This made them more easily influenced by what they see on social media.
"A lot of people won't put an ugly photo up on Instagram or Facebook and there are apps that make your skin glow, reshape your face and brighten your eyes, so it's like creating a hyper-real universe where nothing is true, but they still feel they have to live up to that," she said.
"Some young people have clicked onto the fakeness of social media, but there is still that initial gut reaction where that social comparison kicks in."
Dr Maguire founded the Now Generation and is finishing a book called Selfies, Sexting, Savagery and Suicide: Welcome to the Age of Narcissism, which she plans to take around to schools to "have the conversations nobody else is having."
Former Noosa resident Elke Kahler is a 20-year-old model and aspiring actress with 7000 Instagram followers.
About two years ago she started to be approached by companies who wanted her to become an influencer for their brands.
Miss Kahler said she started out in Year 11 just "taking photos of anything" but became more focused once she started modelling and would share images from photoshoots and fashion shows she went to with her friends.
Now living in Sydney, Miss Kahler encouraged young people to be comfortable in their own skin.
"There is nothing worse than someone trying to represent themselves in a way just because other people would like it," she said.
"So many people get caught up in the world of Instagram, but just be yourself and don't feel a need to conform to society's ideals."
Miss Kahler said while a lot of people did get "blinded" by constant images of perfection, she was pleased to see a greater uptake of Snapchat, which allowed people's personalities to take centre stage rather than their appearance.
Miss Kahler said while it was hard for consumers of social media to draw the line between reality and a contrived image, it was also hard for young people who attracted large followings basically overnight and then faced the pressure of maintaining a certain image.
"If someone posts photos of a beautiful life, that doesn't mean that nothing ever goes wrong for them," she said.
"There is a whole other life going on around that one photo, so you need to just appreciate the photos for what they are and that is just one moment in time."
Miss Kahler was a former work colleague of Coolum teen Essena O'Neill, who made headlines around the world in November last year after she claimed the "perfect" life shown on her Instagram account was all fake.
Miss O'Neill deleted almost 2000 photos from her Instagram account and changed her account name to "Social Media Is Not Real Life".
"I have created an image of myself that I think others feel is unattainable, others look at as a role model, others look at as some type of 'perfect human'," she said.
"I get people saying every day on my Tumblr or on Instagram... 'I wish I was you'.
"Lately I've realised how horrible that is. For someone to follow my content and think I wish I was you, that is the opposite of what I want to promote."
So the next time you find yourself scrolling through Insta or Facie, take the photos you see with a grain of salt.
Yes, they might be glamorous and all kinds of fabulous, but just like the cover models of almost all magazines, they almost certainly are not untouched, unedited or completely natural.
If you need help with depression, call Lifeline on 13 11 14