one young teenager boy or girl silhouette computer computing lapGuest author Megan Moreno: Adolescent medicine physician and Principle Investigator of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team

As Sara described last week, an area of our research team’s interest has been investigating depression disclosures on social media. We have conducted several research studies in this area, each new study develops after learning new things from the last one. Our initial study in the area of depression looked at how often depression disclosures were present on Facebook. We found that up to a quarter of Facebook profiles of older adolescents included one or more depression symptom displays. We also found that these displays were in particular patterns, and that comments from friends to these displays were frequent.

Since these displays were pretty common, we felt that our next study needed to investigate what these displays meant to the person who posted them. We conducted a study in which we evaluated Facebook profiles of older adolescents, and then contacted them and asked them to complete a clinical depression screen. We found that older adolescents who displayed depression symptoms on Facebook were more likely to report depression symptoms on the clinical screen.

Once we learned that these displays may indicate a person is at risk for depression, we wanted to know more about how peers or adults could reach out to an adolescent who displays these types of symptoms on a social media site. We did a study asking adolescents about their thoughts and perceptions when they see displayed depression symptoms. Many of them expressed what Sara did….that they were worried about the person posting these symptoms but unsure of how, or whether, to intervene.

In another study we talked with adolescents about ways they would want to be approached if they displayed a depression symptom themselves, and learned strategies in communication. For example, adolescents often described that they wouldn’t mind being approached by a caring adult, particularly being approached with questions such as “I saw what you posted on Facebook, are you ok?” rather than being approached with an assumption or judgment.

From this series of research studies, parents and other caring adults can consider that when they see teens display depression symptoms on social media that these disclosures may be associated with depression symptoms, and that an increasing pattern of such displays is particularly worrisome. Parents and adults can feel more confident in reaching out to that teen to check in that everything is ok, using an inquisitive rather than judgmental approach.

There may be other approaches to consider using social media towards improving depression care. Our research will continue to seek new ways to identify teens at risk for depression and provide them ways to get resources and support.