Anxiety and Depression Lifestyle Bits n Bobs

Are Online Friendships Ruining Your Mental Health?

Internet safety is one of the first things that adults drill into children from a very young age. Don’t talk to strangers online, don’t give out any personal information, don’t use the same password for everything. These are the basic rules that we all learn, and that’s fair enough. The internet can be dangerous, very dangerous. It’s correct that we’re taught that.

What if the internet is your safe place? What do you do when the place that you’ve been taught is evil, is the place you feel the most comforted by? It’s your choice whether you spend time on the internet or not, how much information you give out, etc. For some people, it isn’t a choice. They have nowhere else to go, nobody else that listens.

Me

That was the case for me. It was a slightly different situation, since I was taught internet safety but never the fact that the internet was an inherently ‘bad’ place. I just knew to be cautious, and safe. I didn’t exactly follow the rules as closely as I should’ve done. If I had, I wouldn’t have the friends I have now.

I met my boyfriend, my 3 best friends, and my entire friendship group on the internet. I’ve met some of them in real life, now that I’m older. However, that doesn’t change where our friendship originated from. I do get judged for it, and that’s fine. People who are privileged enough to be confident, outgoing, all of that stuff – they wouldn’t understand. I’m glad that people can make friends in real life, that people don’t have to suffer. But for me, it wasn’t the case, so I had to find other ways of connecting with people.

If it wasn’t for the internet I would be a full-time recluse. I definitely would not have made connections as deep as I have with other humans right now. Personally I find it easier to talk to people over the internet, because I can think about what I’m going to say before I say it. Every time, I feel immense amounts of pressure in real life, to live up to the pace of a conversation or abide by social structures above what I’m comfortable with.

You

I was really interested to find out about others. As part of the blogging community on Twitter, I’ve seen quite a lot of people talking about this subject. Having blogger group chats, online friendships, people communicating with each other daily and mutually. It is so amazing for me to see all these seemingly outgoing people, online. It means that introverted and shy people, like myself, can meet those people. Meeting those sorts of people in real life can sometimes be very daunting and scary. If I met half of the outgoing people I’ve met in real life, on the internet, I’d have a lot more friends.

I did a survey on surveymonkey using some questions I had about the subject.

Question 1

By ‘friends’ in this question, I meant friends by everyone’s personal definition of a friend. For me, a friend is someone who I talk to every single day, that I trust, and I feel completely comfortable with. That doesn’t mean that my definition is everyone’s, keep that in mind.

I would say that I, also, have 0-5 friends online. Since this was the majority, it didn’t surprise me.

Then I asked this:

This was really surprising to me. I would consider at least 3 of the people I’ve met online to be a ‘best friend’. Meaning that I’ve been their friend for longer, I’ve built up more of a trust with them than others, and they understand and listen to my issues – likewise. The fact that most people agreed they have 0-5 online friends, but also most said 0 of those were their best friend, was interesting to me.

Question 3

‘Where did you meet the majority of your best friends?’ Gave back a pretty definite answer. I’d say about 90% of the answers received said ‘Twitter’ or ‘Twitter chats’. Whether that is because this survey was aimed at bloggers mainly, is up to you. Some said they met through mutual friends, a relationship, or other social media platforms. This was to be expected, however I did think that more people would’ve said video games.

Question 4

This was also intriguing, I expected the blue bar to be a lot higher. I’m glad that the yellow bar has won, even if it’s not by much. I don’t think you should be distrustful or wary of people that you call your friends, regardless of whether it’s online or not.

Question 5

I asked: “Would you say that you are closer to your online friends than your real life friends?” And honestly – This answer did not surprise me one bit.

Amazing. Personally, I am closer to my online friends than my real life friends. Mainly because I don’t actually have any friends that I would consider ‘real life’. I met most of the friends that I meet up with in real life, online.

Question 6

I’m glad that neither of the extremes in this question were chosen. ‘Never’ or ‘Always’ are usually dangerous things to say (Ironic, coming from the girl with BPD). I totally agree with the answers in this question, that the internet CAN be dangerous. IF you don’t know what you’re doing. If you never get taught how to use the internet safely, or how to meet people online without involving yourself in something horrific, of course it’s dangerous.

“Depends on what part of the internet you’re meeting people from.” Was also popular, however I don’t agree with that. I think that regardless of where you go on the internet, you are somewhat in danger. You can easily meet a murderer on sketchy chat rooms, but you can also just as easily meet the same murderer on Twitter. Whether or not you get murdered by them, is (mostly) under your control.

Question 7

I asked people if they had ever met their online friends, in real life. I then asked, why or why not?

Most of the answers said something along the lines of “No, I live too far from them.” Which I TOTALLY relate to. I didn’t meet my best friend Lottie until I was 17 due to me not being able to drive, or mature enough to sort something out. I didn’t meet my American friends until I was a lot older, because I was too scared to travel alone.

There actually were a fair amount (probably about 55%) saying that they had met their friends in real life, and also their partners/spouses! Most people said that they had sorted it out after a very long time of knowing each other, seeing each other on webcam, talking on Skype or similar, etc. Pretty much everyone said it was some of the best days of their lives.

As for the other tiny percentage, those people said they would never meet their online friends. Reasons varied from ‘wanting to just keep online, online’ to ‘considered too dangerous’.

Question 8

This one is the point of the whole investigation I did. I wanted to know if being online and making friendships that way, had a negative affect on people’s mindsets.

It seems as though the general consensus is that it makes people feel ‘slightly less alone and sad’, which is great! I totally agree with that statement. Like any friendships, some of them have their issues, online or not. That means that sometimes, they will make your mental health worse, since all arguments or conflicts do.

I was surprised to see a smaller percentage say that it made them feel slightly more lonely. I can also understand this point of view. As I think that when you are using online friends as an escape from having to make real life friends, or having online friends is your only option, this can make your mental health worse. Honestly, I know that if I wanted to, and I really tried, I could probably make friends in the ‘real world’. I don’t want to, but if I really had a go, I could.

That doesn’t make it an option for everybody. And sometimes, knowing that the only people who truly care live thousands of miles away… It can be isolating.

Question 9

Here I asked people to tell me if they prefer having online friends over real life ones. I was fully expecting to receive an onslaught of “No, real life friends are better! You can only have a real connection in REAL life!”

I’ll just copy and paste a few of the different answers, as I did get a bunch of varying opinions.

“A mixture. Having online friends is great because you can find people you connect with you probably wouldn’t have met in real life. But they can also make you feel more alone because they’re not there to have coffee with etc. Which is where the real life friends come in.”

“Online. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger Syndrome) so I don’t like face to face interaction. I don’t really like a whole lot of social interaction in the first place – I rarely talk to my online friends.”

“I’d prefer my online friends to live nearer so they can be ‘real life’ friends but then having a friendship is ‘real’ regardless of where the person are located.”

“Online friends are easier to talk to, but nothing compares to the company of a real person.”

Question 10

Please write your immediate thought when you read this sentence: “The online world is destroying young people’s mental health and their ability to make friends in real life.”

I purposefully made this sentence extremely to one side of the argument, and to the negative side of it too. This is usually the impression I get from older generations, and considering most of the participants I assumed were using this survey were under 25 – I thought it would be good to see what reactions I got from them.

“I think the internet is a good outlet for young people who feel alone; I met my friends because they were struggling with the same issues as I was (eating disorder). However, if we don’t pay attention to our kids and monitor what they are doing and who they are talking to, there are very real dangers to seeking friendship or belonging online. Young people are very impressionable and vulnerable and there are a lot of dark and evil people in the world that will do anything they can to get ahold of young people like that (ISIS, pedophiles, murderers, etc). Young people should be taught the dangers of the internet and their internet activity should be moderately monitored if they are still living with parents/guardians.”

“Agree to some extent. I think we struggle more in social situations because it’s harder to interact with people. But at the same time online friends can become real life friends too. And online interaction can significantly improve someone’s mental health if they are struggling with a lack of connection in real life.”

“I disagree. Personally my mental health has become better online because I “met” people who felt the same way; making me feel more human. Also, friends in real life can be high maintenance but I personally have no issue making friends in real life – it’s just as easy as making them online. The only bad thing about the online world with young mental health would be the comparisons made and worrying about being ignored since you see it in front of you. That’s just my experience!”

“I’m not a young person, neither am I a parent. I’m not sure if it’s affecting their ability to make friends IRL, but I do think there must be some impact on their mental health. With everyone living online, the pressures of school are less easy to escape. If people want to give you shit, they can carry on after the bell has rung. Young people who do not understand the implications of their actions may contribute to another’s suffering. A privacy-lax online presence may be an easy target for adults with bad intentions. There is a lot more to consider, and to adequately prepare young people for the trials and tribulations of social media/online activity takes away some of their innocence and may cause them to feel stressed, anxious or depressed. An inability to escape from negative relationships could also do the same.”

There was also quite a lot of answers just saying “Not true” or “completely false”. There were about 4-5 answers who were saying what I mentioned earlier. “Back in the day…” answers, about how in the 90’s ‘all we had were real life friends’.

In a way that kind of annoys me. Yes, sure, all you had were real life friends. But all we have is online now, everything is being moved online. If that gives people the same satisfaction that making friends in real life gave you, what is the problem?

Conclusion

Of course, everything in moderation. The internet is definitely a toxic place if you get caught up in the wrong crowd, or on the wrong platforms. Cyber-bullying is certainly a massive problem, and in no way am I disputing that. Suicides and mental illness caused by things that people say online are a very serious topic, and it does happen more than you think.

Just like ‘back in the 90’s’, there were dangers then and there are now. With mostly any hobby, or activity that you take part in a lot, there are going to be dangers. For example, back in the 90’s, I’m sure that people weren’t all hunky-dory, running on rainbows together. There were bound to be bullies, gangs, suicides, mental illness even, back then.

The only difference now is that, admittedly, it is more focused on one place. You log onto Twitter or Facebook and the ability for all the bullying to be focused on one person, or group of people, is larger. That does not mean that it’s the online world’s fault. Humans have decided to use the internet in this way, and if we were already capable of it, surely it’s a problem with the way our society is – not the fact they do it online?

Let me know what you think in the comments on tweet me on Twitter! I’d love to hear your opinions and thoughts on this. Remember to be respectful of other’s opinions, and be kind.

Chaz x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *