January 20, 2020
2 min read

Students who post about depression on Facebook not directed toward professional help

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Scottye Cash

College students who directly or indirectly reference depression in online posts generally receive support from friends, yet their friends do not tend to encourage them to seek help, according to results of a content analysis published in JMIR Research Protocols.

“Colleges and universities need to provide students with mental health information and resources,” Scottye Cash, MSSW, PhD, professor of social work at The Ohio State University, told Healio Psychiatry. “The information is typically provided in initial orientations to the university; however, there needs to be ongoing messages throughout the students’ academic careers. Steps for accessing resources need to be published everywhere on campus, including bus stops, banners, in campus buildings, on online course management systems, in syllabi and university websites.”

Cash and colleagues noted that many college students and other young adults turn to social media to seek support for mental health-related concerns, thus making these platforms venues for intervention. They conducted a primary quantitative online survey to examine college students’ perceptions about showing feelings of depression on Facebook and how their social media friends responded to these posts. The survey included open response questions and qualitative response data were collected from 34 students at four universities in the United States. Most (85.3%) were female, and the mean age was 20.2 years.

The researchers found that students often expressed depressive feelings or emotions without explicitly using the word depression in their posts. For example, approximately 20% posted language about a bad day and 15% used sad song lyrics or a related video. Only one participant reported asking directly for help in a post. Overall, approximately 35% of responses to these posts were supportive gestures and 19% asked what was wrong. The next three most common responses, each 11%, involved contacting the depressed individual outside of Facebook, sending a private message on the site or “liking” the post. No responses suggested that the depressed individual seek help and one response was reported as negative.

“Struggling with mental health shouldn’t happen in the dark and all alone,” Cash said. “We need to find ways to reach out, educate and support college students, and adults, to reduce mental health stigma. By doing so, we may increase individuals’ willingness to get the help they need in ways that make sense to them (online, in the community and/or at their university).” – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.