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Facebook statuses can predict signs of depression

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There’s always that one friend on Facebook who keeps posting confessional statuses, emo pictures, or links of alarming mental states. We might see them as attention seeking or even get annoyed enough to hide the person’s updates from our news feed, but according to a recent New York Times report, such melodramatic posts can offer signs of an actual depression.

For many people, young adolescents and older individuals alike, social media sites are their only sources to vent. Last year, a research study conducted by the University of Washington stated that 30 percent of 200 students posted updates that reported “feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, insomnia or sleeping too much, and difficulty concentrating,” all of which met the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria as symptoms of depression. Internet spaces allow for a certain wall of security that help people admit to things they would ordinarily hide in real life. Only 10 percent of these depression victims seek counseling to get them through their mental issues.

“You can identify adolescents and young adults on Facebook who are showing signs of being at risk, who would benefit from a clinical visit for screening,” Dr. Megan A. Moreno, a principal investigator in the Facebook studies and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told the New York Times.

Using Facebook to identify signs of depression also leads to ethical and privacy issues since posts can only be monitored by people who are on each other’s friends list. Often time, this will not include psychologists.

“Do you hire someone in the university clinic to look at Facebook all day?” Dr. Moreno said. “That’s not practical and borders on creepy.”

At Cornell University, resident advisors are suggested to add their residents on Facebook to help keep track of the students’ mental health and overall state. The resident advisors also meet with counselors and police weekly to discuss individuals who may be showing symptoms of depression. The meetings help RAs learn more about how to differentiate between false positives and actual cries for help, as well as raise concerns to counselors about those who should be seeking help.

While children may also feel embarrassed to add their parents on Facebook, it’s important for parents to try to keep an eye on their children’s online activity for signs of anxiety, bullying or abnormal behavior. If parents spot something alarming, whether online or a change in real life attitude, Dr. Moreno also suggests for them to react calmly with an early intervention instead of making a scene. After all, people are unlikely to post something on Facebook if they weren’t hoping for someone to respond or comment.

In 2007, Facebook also worked with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to help readers report disturbing posts to the site as “suicidal.” If the post is verified as troublesome, both the person who alerted Facebook and the original poster will receive a link to the prevention lifeline and online counselors.