As adolescents become young adults, they are less likely to talk about depression on Facebook

Adolescents spend a lot of time on social media. It is logical to expect their social media activity to hold a clue to their mental health but latest research shows that is not the case, especially as they transition into young adults.

In fact at-risk adolescents are less likely to post about depressive symptoms on social media as they become older. The research will be presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2018 Meeting in Toronto. However adolescents with a diagnosis of depression felt less stigmatized describing depressed mood on social media.

Social media use can provide important information on the mental health of adolescents, including their own descriptions of their experiences. The purpose of this study was to analyze the patterns of social media posting describing depressive symptoms among an at-risk cohort of adolescents.

The study measured Facebook posts by participants at two time periods, labeled Time 1 as adolescents and Time 2 as young adults. A special tool was used to identify displayed depression symptoms on Facebook.

Examples of posts referencing depression included “Basically at the point of giving up” and “Feeling the worst right now, just wanting to cry.”

The study found that the average number of references to depression among displayers was 9.30 at Time 1 and 4.94 at Time 2, showing a dramatic decrease in posts between adolescents and young adults.

“Considering differences between posts in Time 1 and Time 2, it is suggested that as teens develop, the likelihood to express depressive symptoms is lowered,” said Dr. Kathleen Miller, one of the authors of the study. “This may be related to the development of the prefrontal cortex which plays a role in inhibiting impulsive decisions.”

Examples of posts referencing depression included “Basically at the point of giving up” and “Feeling the worst right now, just wanting to cry.”

The average number of references to suicide or self-harm was 0.34 at Time 1 and 0.08 at Time 2.

Dr. Miller presented the abstract, “Social Media Posting in At-Risk Adolescents: Content Analysis of Facebook Posts Describing Symptoms of Depression,” during the PAS 2018 Meeting.

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