Facebook, Twitter and Reddit growing as outlets for depression, experts say
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.”
AnnArbor.com file photo
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.
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.”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.