Is social media making new parents anxious and depressed?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Half of parents think that social media sites like Instagram and Facebook create unrealistic and unattainable expectations of family life, according to a new survey.

The research, conducted by the Priory Group, also found that more than one in five parents (22 per cent) report that happy snaps on Instagram, or "exuberant baby blogs" on Facebook and other sites made them feel inadequate, while 23 per cent said it made them feel "depressed".

For 40 per cent of the 1000 mums and dads surveyed, idealised images of parenthood and "over-sharenting" are contributing to anxiety among new parents, while 26 per cent blame "instamums" for the rising rates of depression. And while many parents log onto social media to feel more connected to other mums, 10 per cent said they felt some social media sites could actually make new parents feel more isolated.

Perinatal Psychiatrist Dr Lucinda Green of Priory Group said the findings were concerning but "sadly not surprising". "Around 1 in 5 women have mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after birth," she says. 

"Depression and anxiety are common, but women can experience a wide range of mental health problems at this important time in their lives. There are many factors which contribute and these unrealistic representations of motherhood on social media definitely do not help."

Dr Nicole Highet, founder and executive director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) agrees, explaining that the survey reiterates the importance of sharing all aspects of parenthood. 

"These results highlight the potentially compounding impacts that social media can have on the emotional health and wellbeing of expectant and new parents," she says. " It is important that as a community we discuss not only the highs - but also the lows and the realities that come with parenting."

According to Dr Highet, openness and honesty are critical for a number of reasons.

"Being more open and honest helps expectant and first time parents develop more realistic expectations about parenthood, helps them to realise that they are not the only ones who may be struggling with the many challenges that commonly arise – yet are often not spoken about," she says. "It also reminds us that this is part of parenthood, nothing is a perfect TV commercial."

Advertisement

It's not the first time a negative link has been found between social media use and feelings of insecurity or inadequacy in new parents. Last year, a study of 721 women found that mothers who compare themselves to other mums on social networking sites were more likely to feel depressed, "overloaded" in their role as a parent and less competent as a mum. A 2016 study of new mothers found that using Facebook was linked to higher depressive symptoms in the first few months of motherhood, with mums who used Facebook the most more likely to experience elevated parenting stress.

So how can you manage the impact of social media on your mental health as a new mum?

  • If you find yourself making comparisons to "insta mums" or celebrities, don't be afraid to hit unfollow. There are some fantastic accounts run by women like Laura Mazza, and Mel Watts, who work hard to keep motherhood real by sharing the highs and the lows.
  • Accept your mum and aunty's Facebook friend requests. One study found that new mums who had a greater proportion of relatives on Facebook, experienced higher parenting satisfaction.
  • Take a social media break or only check your accounts at certain times of the day. 
  • Do your part to help make social media more than just a highlight reel by sharing all aspects of motherhood. You might just make another mama out there feel like she's not alone.

If you need help urgently, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

You can also contact the PANDA Helpline on 1300 726 306, (Monday to Friday 9am - 7:30pm).