The Poor Me Syndrome-Social media networking sites like Facebook and their adverse neurological and psychiatric consequences
Nitin K Sethi, Prahlad K Sethi
The spread and reach of the Internet has heralded a social media revolution in its wake. Social media are a group of Internet-based applications (networking websites, blogs, microblogs, content communities, virtual game worlds) that allow creation and exchange of user-generated content. The use of social media networking websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has increased exponentially. In 2014 the total number of monthly active Facebook users was reported to be 1,310,000,000 and total number of minutes spent on Facebook per month was 640,000,000. Forty eight percent of Facebook users log in every day and an equal percentage of users between the ages of 18-34 reportedly check Facebook on waking up. 1We are today more connected to each other than ever before. How we communicate with each other, exchange and share information has undergone a pervasive change. Gone are the days when one kept in touch with family and a few close friends either via postal mail (nowadays referred to as snail mail or smail-yes smail was slow but dependable) or via the invention of Alexander Graham Bell (collect call anyone?). Today’s generation has e-mail, cellphones and cellphone apps. We prefer to text rather than call someone in person, e-mail rather than put pen to paper.
A year ago a 28-year-old young lady consulted me for her seizure disorder. At the time of her presentation; she was on 4 anticonvulsant medications, seizures were well controlled but she was experiencing cognitive side-effects and fatigue. Over the ensuing months under close observation, I began to taper her off one anticonvulsant. Her seizure control remained stable and she felt better. All was going well till one day I received a frantic call from her mother. My patient had attempted suicide by overdosing on her anticonvulsants. She was rushed to a local hospital and later transferred to my hospital where she remained in the intensive care unit for 10 days. As her condition stabilized, she was transferred to the neurology floor and later discharged to a rehab facility. I had the opportunity to speak to her mother recently and asked her the reason why her daughter had attempted suicide. Her attempted suicide it turned out was neither related to her seizure disorder nor her anticonvulsants. Rather she fell a victim to the poor me syndrome. Two of her friends on Facebook had changed their status from single to married and one had uploaded pictures frolicking in the sun with her new beau. Seeing those updates had made my patient feel that life as it was for her was not worth living.
The poor me syndrome is likely an under recognized and under reported consequence of social media networking sites like Facebook. We are increasingly conscious about our online persona and how we reflect that to others. So happy memories and status changes are more likely to be uploaded and updated than times of sadness and struggle. In the days of yore before Facebook was born we knew little what our friends were up to in their lives- who were getting married, who had a new girlfriend or had purchased an awesome house by the beach. Ignorance as they say is indeed bliss for what we did not know did not affect us. Now though; a happy post by one of your friend risks creating sadness and feelings of hopelessness in you.
1. Facebook statistics. http://www.statisticbrain.com/facebook-statistics/2014.