Social media platforms could help people cope with depression

Social Media, Depression

Researchers have suggested that social media platforms like Instagram and Reddit have the potential of helping people cope with depression.

In current times even when technology has changed how people interact with each other and in a way made it simpler, people are hesitant to talk about their painful experiences and suffering for fear of being stigmatized. Researchers at Drexel’s College of Computing and Informatics have observed in their study that while this hesitance to communicate is unfortunate, sufferers of depression are finding solace in social networking sites.

Andrea Forte and Nazanin Andalibi from Drexel College have observed that one-way people in pain are overcoming silence is by using Instagram – and recruiting pictures to help them explain the feelings and experiences that are often too painful or complicated to put into words.

Previous studies had suggested that people avoid sharing their struggles with depression, eating disorders, abuse, mental health challenges, and other sensitive issues, on social networks, such as Facebook — for much the same reason they’d tend to avoid talking about these things in a person: because of the stigma that’s attached to them. So Forte and Andalibi’s research on Reddit broke new ground in our understanding of social media use in stigmatized and sensitive contexts.

It also pushed them to find how people were using other social network sites to reach out for support.

“At the same time we were studying interactions on Reddit, we were also looking at Instagram because it is one of the most heavily used social media sites and also allows pseudonymous users, contrary to Facebook that enforces real-name policies,” Andalibi said. “And we wanted to see how people might behave differently on a more image-centric, rather than one that is driven solely by textual posts and comments.”

To investigate their theory Forte and Andalibi examined the responses to a sample of 800 Instagram posts pulled from more than 95,000 photos tagged with “#depression” that was posted by 24,920 unique users over the course of a month. Its findings indicate that not only are people using Instagram to make sensitive disclosures, but they are also getting mostly positive support from the people who respond to the posts, and little in the way of negative or aggressive comments.

So the researchers set out to understand the ways that Instagrammers use pictures, captions and comments to signal this need to connect. Gathering posts with the “#depression” tag gave them a range of posts in which people were expressing their feelings, talking about their struggles and reaching out for support — both in words and pictures.

After gaining an understanding of the general categories of posts that were tagged “#depression” Forte and Andalibi undertook a similar process to categorize the comments on the posts. Then, by using a statistical analysis method, they were able to discover what sorts of responses were most often elicited from particular types of posts.

According to the paper, 41 percent of the posts that the researchers examined brought on comments expressing positive social support. Overall they found that “those who value feedback, engage in support seeking, or disclose sensitive concerns, do receive significantly more feedback.”


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