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Impact of Tumblr on Mental Health: Reflective Essay

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The internet is a source of innumerable connections and communications, giving us the ability to instantly contact someone miles away or across the country in seconds. But in Keith O’Brien’s The Empathy Deficit, he poses the suggestion that the internet is actually driving humans apart and making us less empathetic towards each other. Distant and isolated. “…New research suggests that behind all this communication and connectedness, something is missing. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979…” (O’Brien) It’s thought by some psychologists that the internet has increased our narcissism, which in turn has damaged our ability to empathize and consider others.

I don’t believe that people are inherently less empathetic. Sure, we take a lot more selfies and play more violent video games, but there isn’t an innate or permanent change that has occurred. We haven’t become unfeeling and cruel monsters. However, the way we are interacting, using social media, and the way we are dealing with certain emotional issues today is definitely hindering our ability to connect deeply with one another. The more we turn to the internet instead of reaching out for help in face-to-face or one-on-one conversation the more we lose the ability to handle and understand our own emotions, and therefore, other people’s emotions as well. Understanding is key to empathy.

There is an uprising of people, especially young adults, using the internet as a diary of sorts. An outsourcing for all their rants and venting. Their problems with school, their parents, the world they live in. Almost everyone has expressed themselves in this way on the internet, maybe about their bad experience at a restaurant or their frustration over their team losing a game. This is common, and usually perfectly okay. But what about those teenagers and adults that use the internet a little more obsessively than that? They use the internet as their only source of emotional release, whether on blogs, sites like Twitter or Facebook or even on websites devoted solely to angry rants. One of those sites, “” has more than 6,500 rants and 90,000 comments as of 2013 (Martin, Coyier, VanSistine, Schroeder). These people use the internet to cope with their intense emotions, a means of catharsis. But Brad Bushman, professor at Ohio State University, said that the ease with which we rant on the Internet is making us angrier than ever (MacDonald). When we rant on the internet, we think that what we write will be forgotten, and once we cool down we can leave in the past. There are no checks or filters to keep us in place. Our raw emotions can be let out freely. But this only allows anger or sadness to fester. When calling or texting a friend there is often a cool-down period of waiting before venting. This allows those intense emotions to dissipate.

To most people, especially those who don’t deal with mental illness or social anxiety, it might seem like a “no duh” statement. Obviously using the internet a lot is bad for you. How many people’s social circles are largely made up of online friends? But what many don’t realize is that there is actually a large number of people with private Twitter accounts, “finstas” (private Instagram accounts used to spam photos and rants) and Tumblr blogs, places that are the only way they feel they can freely express themselves.

I’ve always been an introvert myself. Being around people drains me and after several hours of socialization, I’m ready to be alone and recharge. I’ve adapted as I’ve grown but when I was a kid it was a lot more difficult. I far more preferred the internet than hanging out with my loud group of friends. I had online friends to talk to, who didn’t drain me in the same way as actually hanging out in real life. I had forums and blogs and text posts to express myself however I wanted. I loved it. Being social without having to leave my house.

At first, there was nothing too unhealthy with how I used the internet. There was a balance between my screen time and being outside and with my friends. But when I turned thirteen, I started to have a lot more personal issues and also began to struggle with depression and anxiety, which only got worse as the years went by. Instead of turning to the people physically around me, I began to isolate myself in my room and stay on my computer or tablet as long as I was allowed. I could be as emo as I wanted on the internet without having to bother anyone that mattered to me. No one online was telling me to shut up or tell me that it was all in my head. Everyone else on Tumblr was depressed too. We were all in it together.

I thought that the internet could fix my problems. If I vented enough it would all just go away. I just had to wait it out and hide in my room and life would continue along until everything was better. I had created a false sense of community and connection for myself.

As years went by and I spent more and more time online, I noticed my ability to empathize and interact with other people around me began to change. All I could think about were my own problems and how very alone I felt (the only place bringing comfort being the internet). The more isolated I felt, the less I sought to relate and understand other people. Being online with people who seemed to perfectly understand me had made me lazy. I didn’t want to put in the effort to empathize or connect anymore.

Empathy might be a relatively new defined concept, only entering the English lexicon in the early 1900s (O’Brien); however, it is beyond important to who we are as a human race. Without empathy, we fall apart. I don’t think we are as in danger as O’Brien’s article seems to suggest, however. I think people still have empathy within them, but true empathy is difficult to find or express on the internet; a place whose culture centers around memes, snarky comments, public humiliation and ridicule.

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I believe the way you present yourself on the internet will begin to affect the way you present yourself in the outside world over time. If all you post about or read about is your mental illness or your varied issues with the world and yourself, that is what you will become. The internet, when used obsessively, can eat away at any depth to our personalities and reduce us to caricatures of what we once were.

Some would be familiar with the term “echo chamber” – in which ideas are strengthened by being repeated over and over in a closed system, so there is no growth or change of concepts or beliefs. This often refers to social media in terms of what is recommended to us or what headlines are shown. But I believe it also applies to what we put out into the universe, reflected on ourselves.

Many people might turn to the internet because getting a therapist is too expensive or unattainable for them. Talking to family and friends might be out of the question. But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless. The internet can educate us and connect us, yes, but above all, we are responsible for our own healing and we can’t become comfortable allowing ourselves to stagnate and dwell on our problems on social media. Reach out in any way you can to have an actual discussion with someone. Allowing a conversation to happen is so much more beneficial than simply ranting on some text post or tweet.

It can, of course, be beneficial to find others who can relate online. Mea Pearson (Holpuch, sought the internet after she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She was able to create a community that shared stories and insights, bringing people who had previously thought they were completely alone, together. But according to Jen Tombs, that “all-in-together” mindset can quickly become “we-can-never-get-better”.

Jen Tombs ( wrote an article about Tumblr, a blogging website known for being a place anyone can speak freely and find community with others who might deal with the same disorders or struggles. “It’s helped create a culture where it’s commonplace to talk about depression… However, despite this, Tumblr still doesn’t seem to be a very happy place. Users talk openly about their struggles with mental illness, but no one seems to be healing.” Tombs suggests that you can get stuck in a vicious loop of discussing depression in a purely nihilistic way. “Depressed people enabling each other’s depression”, as she puts it.

Coping mechanisms are very important to people who deal with mental illness. It’s what keeps them going through the day or during particularly difficult times in life. But not all coping mechanisms are created equal. Ineffective coping, or maladaptive coping, are counterproductive to growth and healing. Maladaptive coping and addictions go hand in hand. (Dual Diagnosis) Internet addiction is a bad enough issue as it is, but when combined with isolating tendencies and unhealthy coping mechanisms it can be extremely destructive.

People who suffer from anxiety and depression are more at risk for internet addiction. Online addiction can cause both short-term and long-term effects, including feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, isolation. There are also physical symptoms of online addiction such as weight gain or loss and insomnia. For someone who is already dealing with mental illness, this is incredibly damaging, and would in no way improve their current situation. While the sense of community and belonging might be a relief at first, using it as the only source of connection will not allow any kind of healing or growth.

I believe empathy is important to healing ourselves. Like I stated before, I believe the more you obsess with yourself and your own problems (and nothing else), and the more you are encouraged to do so, the worse those problems will become. When we empathize, we are understanding ourselves, our own emotions, and the emotions of others. We are forced to acknowledge that we are not the only people in the universe, that we are not truly in isolation, but that we are all very connected. The internet can seem to be a place of connection, but too much of it, with nothing else, and all it becomes is a reflection of yourself back at you. There isn’t any growth or new insights. Just bad habits, obsessions, and damaging coping mechanisms.

There is no cure-all for mental illness. But I would like to hope that there is a level of healing that can be attained, the ability to find peace. And most importantly, finding a way to not slide back into harmful coping mechanisms, which would only make things worse. The internet can give a false sense of comfort and learning. However much information may be stored online, true wisdom and knowledge of yourself comes from taking a step back and realizing that you’re not going to find all the answers from blogs and text posts online. You’re not going to find growth if the only people you talk to are exactly like yourself and in the same place as you. Distancing ourselves from the internet as a coping mechanism and finding healthier options will not only improve our daily lifestyle but hopefully will help us find our way back to understanding and listening to each other, which in turn will restore some of the empathy we might have lost.

Works Cited

  1. MacDonald, Fiona. “Sorry, But Venting Online Just Makes You Angrier, Scientists Find.” Science Alert. Science Alert, 15 Aug. 2015. Web.
  2. Martin, Coyier, VanSistine, Schroeder. “Anger On The Internet: The Perceived Value of Rant-Sites.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking. Mary Ann Liebert, 20 Feb. 2013. Web.
  3. Tombs, Jen. “Why Tumblr Might Be Hindering Your Mental Health.” Study Breaks. Study Breaks, 18 Aug. 2018. Web.
  4. Holpuch, Amanda. “‘I Just Feel Less Alone’: How Tumblr Became A Source For Mental Health Care.” The Guardian. Guardian News & Media, 19 May 2016. Web.
  5. “How Do You Cope?” Dual Diagnosis Program. Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, 2019. Web.
  6. Ramasabbu, Suren. “Expecting Empathy On the Internet.” Huffpost. Huffington Post, 7 July 2015. Web. (

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