Can Too Much Facebook Make You Crazy?

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Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”

Yeah, or maybe it makes you batshit crazy.

We all know the perils of internet addiction, especially when lured by the cloying grasp of virtual connections and relationships. Work is abandoned because that tweet is just begging to be retweeted, or you’re late to a dinner date because you felt a desperate need to look through all 1000 of your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s friend’s vacation photos from Taiwan (thank god for public privacy settings, right?)

New research from Tel Aviv University states that social networks such as Facebook are the refuge of the lonely. Not only do people use the internet for stalking everyone they ever (or never) knew, in some cases many use it to construct a personalized world filled with one-dimensional contacts—contacts that can develop imagined facets if given extensive time and nourishment.

A paper written by the university’s Doctor Uri Nitzan and published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences draws connections between internet addiction and psychotic breaks due to the unstable nature of virtually-forged relationships.

As internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies,” Nitzan said. “Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story.”

While Facebook has in past studies been identified as an easy stage for cyber-bullying and predatory behavior due to the ability to built masked or entirely false profiles (Catfish, anyone?), this is the first study that identifies that social-network harm can also be self-inflicted.

Dr. Nitzan’s study examined three of his own patients from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Centre, all of whom developed psychotic symptoms related to their high use of social networking. One even “experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her.”

Continued, lengthy use of social networks, in every case, eventually led to dramatic psychotic symptoms such as “delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications.

Some of the problematic features of the internet relate to issues of geographical and spatial distortion, the absence of non-verbal cues, and the tendency to idealize the person with whom someone is communicating, becoming intimate without ever meeting face-to-face,” said Nitzan.

Don’t worry, there’s no need to swear off Facebook entirely: Nitzan ended his study on an optimistic note.

The good news,” he said, “is that all of the patients, who willingly sought out treatment on their own, were able to make a full recovery with proper treatment and care.”

But from now on? Everything in moderation, and remember: virtual reality is not your only reality.