What to Do When Your Friend Posts About Depression on Social Media

A new study suggests that people should advise friends to seek help when they post about depression.

With discussions of mental health and self-care becoming much more frequent and frank these days, you've probably seen some of your friends or family members write Facebook posts about their struggles with mental health issues. Of course, it can be hard to know how to respond in order to help a friend with depression and show that you support them. And according to a new study published in the journal JMIR Research Protocols, unfortunately, it turns out we don't tend to do the right thing.

In the research out of Ohio State University, 33 students said they had "reached out on Facebook for help when depressed." Half of them reported symptoms consistent with moderate to severe depression and around a third reported recently having suicidal thoughts. Only one of the students in the study directly asked for help, and only three actually mentioned the word "depression." The others hinted at their depression by using quotes about sadness (5 percent), a negative emoji (5 percent), sad song lyrics (15 percent), or by writing sentences like "Things couldn't get any worse" (45 percent).

"They didn't use words like 'depressed' in their Facebook posts. It may be because of the stigma around mental illness," Scottye Cash, an associate professor of social work at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "Or maybe they didn't know that their symptoms indicated that they were depressed."

Either way, these students said that none of their friends responded the way mental health experts say you should, which is to recommend that they seek professional help. The most common response was to say something supportive (35 percent), ask what was wrong (19 percent), send a private message or contact the friend outside of Facebook (11 percent), or simply "like" the post (11 percent).

It can be difficult to tell a friend they should seek professional help, especially in an online forum, as you don't want them to get offended or think you're implying something's wrong with them. But the experts say that doing so is the best move you can make for them in the long-term. "It makes me concerned that none of the Facebook friends of students in this study were proactive in helping their friend get help," Cash said. "We need to increase mental health literacy and decrease mental health stigma."

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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