It’s long been recognized that “keeping up with the Joneses” is a big part of what keeps us all running the “rat race.” Those may be outdated phrases these days, but the condition of unhealthy envy they describe is alive and well.
It’s admittedly difficult to avoid noticing the outward appearances of your neighbor’s life—job, car, home, overachieving kids, and adventurous vacations—and comparing them to your own, concluding your neighbor must be better off and happier than you. This comparison game is rigged from the start. Media marketers work overtime to be sure you feel your life is lacking so they can sell you what’s missing.
Before the Internet, however, those we compared ourselves to were mostly flesh-and-blood people. They lived down the street or worked down the hall. It was at least possible to see them at their worst as well as at their best. And they numbered in the dozens at the very most.
Now we compare ourselves to thousands, if not millions, of virtual neighbors. And we see only what they allow us to see—photos of their pets, happy dinners with friends, the view from an exotic beach, kids getting academic awards, crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Most of this is posted by people who are “friends” in name only. It’s a giant understatement to say that all this adds up to a man- aged and distorted view of who people really are and how they actually live. And that’s before we account for perceptions created by advertisers that can be grossly manipulative, misleading, or outright false.
Those suffering from depression are already poised to believe that their lives don’t measure up to the lives of others. The Internet provides persuasive “evidence” they’re right about that.
While much of what you see on the Internet presents an overly rosy view of reality, millions of other sites peddle the opposite extreme: nonstop doom and gloom. It’s an alarming parade of war, famine, political strife, social injustice, and environmental catastrophe. Spend much time there, and you’ll be convinced the world teeters on the edge of calamity and collapse every second of every day.
I believe a steady diet of “digital distortion” is harmful to anyone’s mental health and magnifies depression symptoms. It rarely leads to healthy or effective political engagement on important issues. In fact, exposure to “doom porn,” as it is sometimes humorously called, simply reinforces feelings of powerlessness and despair. That’s why, to a person struggling to overcome serious depression, it’s positively toxic. Turning off the spigot and cleaning up the digital sludge is an essential step toward recovery.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or stress, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.