Many people are reluctant to reach out and help the depressed, new online research underlines.
The study of Facebook examined how friends reacted to posts about depression.
The results revealed that friends were unlikely to recommend getting help, although they provided some minimal support by liking the post or sending motivation messages.
In fact, none of the 33 people participating in the study, many of whom were depressed, were told to get professional help by friends.
Dr Scottye Cash, the study’s first author, said:
“It makes me concerned that none of the Facebook friends of students in this study were proactive in helping their friend get help.
We need to figure out why.”
The study focused on 33 students who had reached out on Facebook for help when depressed.
Half of the people in the study were moderately or severely depressed and one-third were experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Dr Cash said:
“There’s no doubt that many of the students in our study needed mental health help.”
Depressed students typically said they had had ‘the worst day’ or described feeling very alone.
Some used song lyrics or emojis to convey their emotions.
However, they did not generally use the word ‘depression’, Dr Cash said:
“They didn’t use words like ‘depressed’ in their Facebook posts
It may be because of the stigma around mental illness.
Or maybe they didn’t know that their symptoms indicated that they were depressed.”
Some friends generally reacted in a supportive way, while others asked what was wrong.
Dr Cash is sympathetic with friends who did not pick up the signals:
“For the friends reading these posts, they often have to read between the lines since few people came right out and said they were depressed.
Many people used quotes and song lyrics to talk about how they’re feeling, so their friends really had to decode what they were saying.”
Recognising the signs of depression is difficult for people, said Dr Cash:
“Both Facebook and colleges and universities could do more to give these students information about resources, mental health support and how to recognize the signs of depression and anxiety.
We need to increase mental health literacy and decrease mental health stigma.”
Here are ten common symptoms of depression.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the JMIR Research Protocols (Cash et al., 2019).