Facebook can help people recover from mental health problems but the social networking site needs to be used cautiously and strategically as it can also make symptoms worse, a new research has found.
According to the study by Dr Keelin Howard from Buckinghamshire New University, UK, Facebook users found their paranoid, manic and depressive symptoms could worsen as well as improve.
Howard carried out research with 20 people aged 23-68 who had experienced conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.
Some participants were positive about Facebook, saying it helped them recover by making them feel less alone, allowing them to express themselves and be part of an online community.
Some participants said that constructing a Facebook profile had played a part in rebuilding their identities after a mental health crisis, so facilitating their recovery.
"Many participants spoke of the way Facebook could enhance their mood through keeping up with their friends, and through receiving positive self-affirmation when other people liked or left comments on their posts," said Howard.
Facebook provided some with a less threatening means to communicate, gain and give peer support when 'face-to-face' communication was too intense.
However, some participants also said it had worsened their condition, said Howard, who presented her findings at the British Sociological Association's annual conference in Glasgow.
"All participants who experienced psychosis and dealt with paranoia had found Facebook particularly problematic when unwell. It often exacerbated or triggered feelings of paranoia, leading to an increase in delusions or psychotic thinking," she said.
"Some became distressed that others' posts were aimed at them, whilst others became paranoid about how others would react to their posts. All participants with diagnoses of schizophrenia felt that Facebook was harmful when they were unwell," she added.
"Participants who identified as having bipolar disorder found that while manic they were far more active on Facebook and had posted things that they later regretted. They felt embarrassed by their comments and felt that it led to people misunderstanding them," Howard said.
"Several participants said that Facebook use led to anxiety, but one described it playing a part in severe anxiety as fellow students shared about their exam preparation, exacerbating extreme anxiety that then led to panic attacks," Howard added.
"Participants found that Facebook could be a vehicle both for challenging the stigma around mental health as well as a place where prevalent stigma around mental health conditions could make survivors feel more vulnerable or reticent," Howard said.