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Jun 27, 2013 09:56 AM EDT

Adolescents Use Social Media to Express Depressed Feelings: Study

Troubled teens use social media and mobile technology to convey their depression and suicidal thoughts, says findings from the two studies conducted by researchers at Ohio State University.

During a one-month analysis, researchers discovered 64 comments on MySpace which were related to suicidal feelings. A follow-up survey found that young adults like to text to share their feelings. This was reported to be the second most common method of reaching out to others. Teens mainly prefer talking to their family and friends about their distressed feelings.

Talking on the phone, using instant messaging and posting on a social networking site were the subsequent options.

They also said that they are less likely to approach a health specialist, write a blog, join an online suicide support group or call suicide prevention hotlines and online suicide support networks to seek help.

Currently, NGOs and other organizations using these help lines as major helping strategies should instead focus on diverting their resources to social networking and other types of technology, the study suggested.

"Obviously this is a place where adolescents are expressing their feelings," said Scottye Cash, associate professor of social work at The Ohio State University and lead author of the studies. "It leads me to believe that we need to think about using social media as an intervention and as a way to connect with people."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third most prominent cause of death among youth aged between 10 and 24 years.

To arrive at the conclusion, the researchers analysed contents of public profiles on MySpace. Initially, they downloaded profile pages of a 41,000-member sample of 13- to 24-year-olds from March 3-4, 2008, and in December 2008 again.

After examining all the comments, researchers narrowed 2 million comments to 1,083 that showed traces of suicidal feelings and further filtered it to 64 posts that revealed clear conversations of self-destruction.

 "There's a lot of drama and angst in teenagers so in a lot of cases, they might say something 'will kill them' but not really mean it. Teasing out that hyperbole was an intense process," Cash said.

The three most popular phrases found in the final sample were 'kill myself' (51.6 percent), 'want to die' (15.6 percent) and 'suicide' (14.1 percent). Cash also said that certain song lyrics also hinted on their suicidal tendencies.

About 42 percent of the posts indirectly referred to problems with family or other relationships - out of which, 15.6 percent were about break-ups and 6.3 percent were connected to mental health problems or substance abuse.

Talking about their ways of dying, around 3 percent of the teens said they would use guns, 1.6 percent referred to using a knife and 1.6 percent combined being knocked by a car and a knife.

The follow-up survey conducted on 1,089 participants aged 18-24 with an average age of 21, revealed that people with suicidal tendencies were more willing to use technology, preferably the phone, instant messaging, texting and social networking - to reach out for help.

The survey also noted that this age group use the internet on sensitive topics, and adults with a history of suicidal thoughts consulted the Internet for topics that are difficult to discuss -drug use, sex, depression, eating disorders or other mental health concerns.

"It appears that our methods of reaching out to adolescents and young adults is not actually meeting them where they are. If, as adults, we're saying, 'this is what we think you need' and they tell us they're not going to use it, should we keep pumping resources into suicide hotlines?" Cash said. "We need to find new ways to connect with them and help them with whatever they're struggling with, or, in other words.

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