Depression was ruining a social media star's life. This is how she beat it
Published Wednesday, October 9, 2019 2:45PM EDT
TORONTO -- A Canadian social media influencer has learned that even online, honesty is the best policy.
It wasn’t that long ago that Caitlin Fladager was on the path to internet fame. She had hundreds of thousands of followers, had made appearances on American television, and had even been approached about a product placement deal.
But while the 25-year-old B.C. woman was outwardly displaying all the signs of a star on the rise, something much different was happening in her head.
“I would spend all day in bed. I was going through a deep depression,” Fladager said Wednesday on CTV’s Your Morning.
“I would look at my Instagram and I would look at other people’s, and see how they’re always posting these happy pictures every day, and I wasn’t feeling that way.
“It got to the point where I would get up and get ready just for the picture – and just go straight back to bed and post it saying I’m happy, when I was not at all.”
Fladager had never intended to become Instagram-famous.
She had started sharing her life with the world when she was 18 years old and pregnant. Somehow, people began to take notice.
“I don’t exactly know how it started. I kept posting about me being pregnant with her, and my relationship with her father, and it just kind of rolled from there,” she said.
The numbers kept increasing, as did the online interactions, but it took a real-world encounter with a fan for Fladager to realize the extent of her celebrity.
“I was like ‘Wow, this is real; people know who I am; people are looking up to me,’” she said.
Being met with the reality of her fame made Fladager more determined than ever to present the image her followers expected of her – even though she knew it was a complete illusion. The feeling of being a fraud continued to eat away at her, causing ever-worsening anxiety and depression.
Last year, Fladager decided it was time to stop hiding. Messages about her mental health started to creep into her social media posts. Although some followers tuned them out, she found a new audience by talking about the mental pressures that come with influencer status.
“I don’t feel this pressure anymore,” she said.
“I feel like I can take pictures without having to do my makeup and my hair – I just feel a lot more free.”
Freedom is not a feeling often associated with social media. This year alone, researchers have found that social media use correlates with symptoms of depression in teenagers, that frequent social media activity harms the mental health of teenage girls, and that people who post a lot of selfies are perceived as being insecure and unlikeable – probably the opposite of what the selfie stars were hoping for. Social media pressure has even been cited as one factor behind an increase in suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts among children.
To combat these concerns, social platforms have started to remove some of their more addictive and anxiety-provoking features. Instagram removed like counts on photos earlier this year and is now reportedly ready to block users from seeing which accounts are followed by individual users. Facebook has also experimented with hiding likes.
For Fladager, though, showing her true face has helped more than any change brought about by any social media platform. She still boasts more than 250,000 Instagram followers – about the name number she had prior to her pivot away from sharing a false lifestyle – as well as 450,000 fans on Facebook and nearly 60,000 on Twitter.
“Everybody goes through depression and anxiety, and I think it makes people feel less and less alone when people with more following talk about it openly,” she said.