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Posted on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Facebook, Twitter and Reddit growing as outlets for depression, experts say

By Amy Biolchini

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are growing outlets for individuals in their late teens and early 20s to communicate signs of depression, experts said Wednesday at an event at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“This is our future,” said Dr. John Greden, executive director of U-M's Depression Center. “These are the modalities in which we intervene.”


Researchers state about one out of four college students with Facebook profiles may be mildly depressed based on the information they share in their status updates. file photo

About 25 percent of a survey of Facebook statuses from 200 people included signs of mild depression, researchers said.

The figure came from one of numerous studies conducted by Dr. Megan Moreno, a member of the division of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital, who presented her research to a gathering of top depression researchers in a conference room at Rackham Auditorium Wednesday.

The talk was a part of a two-day Depression on College Campuses conference this week.

Researchers classified statuses with blatant expressions - including statements like “I’m so depressed I can’t go to class today,” as well as the use of “FML,” talking about sadness, the lack of will to sleep, eat or participate in social activities, as well as downtrodden messages accompanied by a poem or song lyric that communicated their feelings as signs of depression.

“We had to have some coders take breaks because it was emotionally wrenching,” Moreno said of her research team.

Facebook seemed to be a platform for individuals with mild depression to seek support, Moreno said.

“The ones that are out there: It’s really important to figure out a strategy to get to them,” Greden said, explaining that helping people cope with mild depression early on is important.

About 2.5 percent of the profiles surveyed had a high frequency of depressed Facebook statuses, Moreno said, noting that individuals with more severe depression tend to withdraw and not interact socially whatsoever.

Though depressed Facebook statuses tended to draw a show of support from that person’s Facebook friends, the interactions mirrored offline relationships.

“The way that people react depends on the strength of their offline relationship,” Moreno said, explaining that only close friends are the ones that respond with offers of help and support to a depressed Facebook status.

Facebook developers created several ways to address the issue. Users can communicate with the site administrators if one of their Facebook friends is posting about suicide, self-harm or other things that cause them alarm.


Choose this option to start the process of notifying Facebook of a suicidal or alarming status.

By clicking on the small tab on the upper right corner of a user’s Facebook status, a menu of options appears including “Report Story or Spam.”

This is the menu of options to choose from after you report a status on Facebook.

Selecting that option leads the user to an option to file a report. Clicking on the “Violence or harmful behavior” option allows the user to report someone else’s status as about credible threat of violence, self-harm, suicidal content, graphic violence, theft or vandalism, or drug use.

Facebook will then contact that person to initiate a confidential chat, and to send a link to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Derrick Jackson, spokesman for the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, said officers respond to suicidal and mental health issues in the same manner no matter what method the person has used to convey their feelings - including phone calls, text messages to other people, or calling 911.

“Suicidal calls are taken very serious as they can have significant consequences for the person with thoughts of suicide, the officer responding and the family or community members in the area at the time,” Jackson said in a statement.

“Ultimately, connecting someone to the long-term support they need to address their mental health issues is what we attempt to do regardless of how we come in contact with them.”

Need to talk?

  • If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts or would like to speak with someone, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Help is available 24 hours a day.
However, Moreno made the point that while some people update their Facebook statuses with intensely personal information, others may use it in more sarcastic or humorous ways -- which could lead to confusion about the intent of the status.

“People assume that how they use Facebook is the way that everyone else uses it,” Moreno said. “You can’t rely on Facebook to be this safety net, because people aren’t going to use it in that way most of the time.”

Moreno’s studies were conducted in 2009. In the past several years, Moreno said Twitter and Reddit have become increasingly more popular as ways for college students to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Researchers at the conference Wednesday were interested in finding ways to intercept college students on social media with links to their local counseling centers and mental health support services.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

If you really want to get depressed, try quitting Facebook and see how many "friends" you really have. That was a hell of a wake-up call for me, and really helped to put the importance I had been placing on social media in perspective.

Homeland Conspiracy

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit can't give you a hug or a supporting pat on the back. I would be "depressed" to if my contact with living breathing humans is limited to a screen. The best remedy or relief from depression I have found is to help someone out other than yourself & do not expect anything in return. But it's hard to help someone with your face pressed against a screen or texting 24/7 Put down the ego enhancement device (phone) turn off the computer & go out & lend a hand, help someone, give back.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:17 p.m.

Well said Homeland! It truly is alarming to realize how much my HS and college age kids (and heck even myself , if I'm honest) are attached to their devices.

Amy Biolchini

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

The point Dr. Moreno made when she said "People assume that how they use Facebook is the way that everyone else uses it" rings very true for me. For me, Facebook is a source of amusement and to keep in touch with my friends from college. I also tend to limit the amount of statuses I see from my friends that I deem as oversharing. What's your reaction to your Facebook friends when they post more than you want to know about them?


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 6:35 p.m.

For me Facebook is a source of amusement and a fantastic way to keep in touch with friends and relatives I don't see because they live far away. I tend to limit posts that are overly aggressive with political and/or religious agendas...issues I mostly try to stay away from on FB.

Dr. Fate

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

I click Hide more than I click Like. Facebook Survival Tip.

Dog Guy

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

My wife tells me that she blocks people who use Facebook as wholesale "outlets for depression".