VIR­TUAL VENT­ING Dark posts on Face­book could be signs of de­pres­sion and could serve as an early warn­ing sys­tem for timely in­ter­ven­tion

HT Ludhiana Live - - Wellness -

For ado­les­cents, Face­book and other so­cial me­dia have cre­ated an ir­re­sistible forum for on­line shar­ing and over­shar­ing, so much so that end­less mood- of- the- mo­ment up­dates have in­spired a snick­er­ing re­tort on T-shirts and posters: “Face your prob­lems, don’t Face­book them.”

But spe­cial­ists in ado­les­cent medicine and men­tal health ex­perts say that dark post­ings should not be hastily dis­missed be­cause they can serve as an early warn­ing sys­tem for timely in­ter­ven­tion. Whether ther­a­pists should en­gage with pa­tients over Face­book, how­ever, re­mains a mat­ter of de­bate.

And par­ents have their own co­nun­drum: how to dis­tin­guish a teenager’s typ­i­cally melo­dra­matic mut­ter­ings — like the “worst day of my life” rants about their “fren­e­mies,” aca­demics or even cafe­te­ria food — from a true emerg­ing cri­sis.

Last year, re­searchers ex­am­ined Face­book pro­files of 200 stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Washington and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-madi­son. Some 30 per­cent posted up­dates that met the Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric As­so­ci­a­tion’s cri­te­ria for a symp­tom of de­pres­sion.

Their find­ings echo re­search that con­cluded that 30 to 40% of col­lege stu­dents suf­fer a de­bil­i­tat­ing de­pres­sive episode each year. Yet scarcely 10% seek coun­selling.

“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,” said Dr Me­gan A. Moreno, a prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the Face­book stud­ies and an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-madi­son.

Some­times the warn­ings are seen in hind­sight. Be­fore 15-year-old Amanda Cum­mings com­mit­ted sui­cide by jump­ing in front of a bus on De­cem­ber 27, her Face­book up­dates may have re­vealed her an­guish. On De­cem­ber 1, she wrote: “then ill go kill my­self, with these pills, this knife, this life has al­ready done half the job.” MOOD MON­I­TOR Face­book started work­ing with the Na­tional Sui­cide Preven­tion Life­line in 2007 to re­port any dis­turb­ing con­tent. Af­ter Face­book ver­i­fies the com­ment, it sends a link to the preven­tion life­line to help the dis­tressed per­son. In De­cem­ber, Face­book also be­gan send­ing the links to an on­line coun­sel­lor.

While Face­book’s re­port­ing fea­ture has been crit­i­cised by many, other ther­a­pists have praised it as a pos­i­tive step.

At some uni­ver­si­ties, res­i­dent ad­vis­ers are us­ing Face­book to mon­i­tor their charges. Last year, when Lilly Cao, then a ju­nior, was a house fel­low at Wis­con­sin-madi­son, she de­cided to ac­cept Face­book “friend” re­quests from most of the 56 fresh­men on her floor.

She spot­ted posts about home­sick­ness, aca­demic de­spair and a men­ac­ing ex-boyfriend. Cao said she would never re­ply on Face­book, pre­fer­ring in­stead to talk to stu­dents in per­son. The stu­dents were grate­ful for the con­ver­sa­tions, she said. “If they say some­thing alarm­ing on Face­book,” she added, “they know it’s public and they want some­one to respond.” SO, YOU’RE LOW. WHAT NEXT? While so­cial me­dia up­dates can of­fer clues that some­one is over­wrought, they also raise dif­fi­cult ques­tions: Who should in­ter­vene? When? How?

“Do you hire some­one in the univer­sity clinic to look at Face­book all day?” Dr Moreno said. “That’s not prac­ti­cal and borders on creepy.” She said a stu­dent might be will­ing to take a con­cerned call from a par­ent, or from a pro­fes­sor who could be trained what to look for.

But eth­i­cally, should pro­fes­sors or even ther­a­pists “friend” a stu­dent or pa­tient? (The stu­dents mon­i­tored by Dr Moreno’s team had given their con­sent.)

De­bra Corbett, a ther­a­pist in Char­lotte, North Carolina, who treats BE­FORE 15-YEAR-OLD AMANDA CUM­MINGS COM­MIT­TED SUI­CIDE, HER FACE­BOOK UP­DATE A FEW DAYS EAR­LIER HAD RE­VEALED HER AN­GUISH ado­les­cents and young adults, said some clients do “friend” her. But she lim­its their ac­cess to her Face­book pro­file to main­tain the con­fi­den­tial­ity of the ther­a­peu­tic re­la­tion­ship.

In­stead, Corbett will ad­dress the posts in ther­apy ses­sions. One can­di­date who is de­pressed, Corbett will say to her: “How did you feel when you posted that? We’re work­ing on you val­i­dat­ing your­self. When you put it out there, you have no con­trol about what they’ll say back.”

Su­san Kidd, who teaches emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents at a Ken­tucky high school, fol­lows their Face­book up­dates, which she calls a “valu­able tool” for in­ter­ven­tion with those who “may oth­er­wise not have been forth­com­ing with se­ri­ous is­sues.”

At Cor­nell Univer­sity, psy­chol­o­gists do not “friend” stu­dents. How­ever, they dis­cuss stu­dents who may be at risk with coun­sel­lors, res­i­dence ad­vi­sors and the po­lice

Dr Moreno said she thought it made sense for house fel­lows at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin to keep an eye on their stu­dents who “friend” them. Stu­dents’ im­me­di­ate friends, she said, should not be ex­pected to shoul­der re­spon­si­bil­ity for in­ter­ven­tion.

Tolu Taiwo, a ju­nior at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana- Cham­paign, agreed. “I know some­one who wrote that he wanted to kill him­self,” she said. “It turned out he prob­a­bly just wanted at­ten­tion. But what if it was real? We wouldn’t know.”

In fact, when ado­les­cents bare their souls on Face­book, they risk de­ri­sion.

Daylina Miller, a re­cent grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of South Florida, said that when she poured out her sad­ness on­line, some readers re­sponded only with the Face­book “like” or a sym­bol of thumb’s up. “You feel the same way?” said Miller, puz­zled. “Or you like that I’m sad? You’re sadis­tic?”

Some readers, flum­moxed by a friend’s mis­ery, re­main silent, which in­ad­ver­tently may be taken as the most hurt­ful re­sponse. PAR­ENT­ING DILEMMA Par­ents who fol­lowed their chil­dren’s Face­book posts said they did not al­ways know how to dis­tin­guish the drama du jour from silent screams. Of­ten their teenagers felt an­gry and em­bar­rassed when par­ents re­sponded on Face­book.

Many par­ents said they felt em­bar­rassed, too. Af­ter read­ing a grim post, they might raise an alarm, only to be curtly told by their off­spring that it was a pop­u­lar song lyric, a tac­tic teens use to com­ment in code, in part to con­found snoop­ing par­ents.

Corbett, the Char­lotte ther­a­pist, said that when she fol­lowed her sons’ Face­book pages, she was cau­tious. If par­ents re­act to ev­ery lit­tle bad mood, she said, chil­dren might be less open on Face­book, as­sum­ing that “my par­ents will freak out.” LIFESAVER POST Some­times a Face­book post­ing can truly be a last-re­sort cry for help. One re­cent af­ter­noon while Jackie Wells, who lives near Day­ton, Ohio, was wait­ing for her phone ser­vice to be fixed, she went on­line to check on her daugh­ter, 18, who lives about an hour away. Just 20 min­utes ear­lier, the girl, un­able to reach her mother by phone, used her own Face­book page to post to Walls or any­one else who might read it: “I just did some­thing stupid, mom. Help me.”

Wells bor­rowed a cell­phone from her par­ents and called rel­a­tives who lived closer to her daugh­ter. The girl had over­dosed on pills. They got her to the hospi­tal in time. “Face­book might be a pain in the neck to keep up with,” Wells said. “But hav­ing that ex­tra form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion saves lives.”

Jan Hoffman

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