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Feeling bad on Facebook: depression disclosures by college students on a social networking site

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Abstract

Background: Depression is common and frequently undiagnosed among college students. Social networking sites are popular among college students and can include displayed depression references. The purpose of this study was to evaluate college students' Facebook disclosures that met DSM criteria for a depression symptom or a major depressive episode (MDE). Methods: We selected public Facebook profiles from sophomore and junior undergraduates and evaluated personally written text: “status updates.” We applied DSM criteria to 1-year status updates from each profile to determine prevalence of displayed depression symptoms and MDE criteria. Negative binomial regression analysis was used to model the association between depression disclosures and demographics or Facebook use characteristics. Results: Two hundred profiles were evaluated, and profile owners were 43.5% female with a mean age of 20 years. Overall, 25% of profiles displayed depressive symptoms and 2.5% met criteria for MDE. Profile owners were more likely to reference depression, if they averaged at least one online response from their friends to a status update disclosing depressive symptoms (exp(B) = 2.1, P<.001), or if they used Facebook more frequently (P<.001). Conclusion: College students commonly display symptoms consistent with depression on Facebook. Our findings suggest that those who receive online reinforcement from their friends are more likely to discuss their depressive symptoms publicly on Facebook. Given the frequency of depression symptom displays on public profiles, social networking sites could be an innovative avenue for combating stigma surrounding mental health conditions or for identifying students at risk for depression. Depression and Anxiety, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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