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Dark Facebook Posts Might Signal Depression

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Adolescents are sometimes known for being mopey and melodramatic, but mental health experts say dark status updates on Facebook shouldn’t be ignored — they could be a sign of depression.

Last year, researchers examined Facebook profiles of 200 students at the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and found nearly a third posted updates that involved 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.

The findings match other research suggesting 30 to 40 percent of college students suffer a debilitating depressive episode each year, while only 10 percent seek counseling.

“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.

Facebook, which began working with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline five years ago, allows users who see alarming posts to alert Facebook and report the content as “suicidal.” The social media site then verifies the comment and sends a link for the prevention lifeline and a link to an online counselor to the possibly at-risk person.

Some colleges even have resident advisers or counselors monitor students’ Facebook pages for disturbing updates.

“People do post very distressing things,” said Dr. Gregory T. Eells, director of Cornell’s counseling and psychological services. “Sometimes they’re just letting off steam, using Facebook as something between a diary and an op-ed piece. But sometimes we’ll tell the team, ‘check in on this person.’ ”

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