College can be a very stressful time when you have exams in multiple classes and have to keep up your GPA before you graduate. A small study showed that friends are unlikely to encourage those who express depression online to get help but sent supportive or motivating messages. More needs to be done for college students battling depression to ensure that they can pass their classes and enjoy their time in higher learning without letting their depression take over.

The Study

The research that the journal JMIR Research Protocols found included 33 students who reported that they reached out to Facebook for help with depression. The students reported the types of posts that they made and their friends’ responses. The results showed that nearly half of the participants had symptoms that were consistent with moderate or severe depression and 33% said several times a day they experience suicidal thoughts for several days. Two common themes in the Facebook posts were negative emotions or having a bad day. These themes were reported in 45% of the posts. Only one of the students asked for help and only three mentioned “depression” or other related words. 

Many of the participants used subtle hints to convey their sadness. 15% used sad song lyrics, 5% used emojis, and another 5% used a quote to express their sadness. It could be that they did not use the word “depressed” because of the stigma that surrounds it or because they did not know they are showing symptoms of depression. 

Common Responses

The most common responses from their friends were supportive gestures that ensure that everything will be okay. The next common response was to ask what was wrong, which were not always responded positively. The other three common responses were contacting the depressed friend outside of Facebook, sending a private message through Facebook Messenger, or “liking” a post. 

What to Take From This Study

It is important for college students to be able to understand the depressive signs they see on social media. This way, they will know not only to send encouraging thoughts their way but resources to help treat their depression. They can send them a referral to a therapist that is popular in their area or a support group. Being aware of the signs of suicide on social media can make a real difference in saving someone’s life and ensuring they get the help they need.

Located in Georgetown, Texas, Alta Loma is a transformative living center to help those struggling in early recovery to transition out of our Psychiatric and Substance Abuse inpatient center. Alta Loma believes that addiction is born from an untreated mental illness in which our facility is willing to help you. Our facility offers residency, medication management education, individualized treatment, life skills education, 12-step support, and more tools to bring patients the confidence to be able to live an independent life. For more information, please call us at 866-457-3843.


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