I read about an interesting study out of Ohio State University yesterday. The headline immediately got my attention as it seemed to really show how much stigma there is about depression and mental health in college, but then it took a turn.
First, the immediate take away from the study:
When college students post about feelings of depression on Facebook, their friends are unlikely to encourage them to seek help, a small study suggests.
In fact, in this study, none of the 33 participating students said their friends told them they should reach out to a mental health professional to discuss their problems.
Instead, most friends simply sent supportive or motivating messages.
Right away I started to think we have work to do here. Friends want to be supportive, but none of them even attempted to help direct this person to professional help. That concerns me. Are we so afraid of “therapy”, and the stigma around it, that even when we see someone expressing their struggle we don’t want to suggest it?
Well, maybe. That might explain part of what was going on here. But there’s more if you dig in deeper.
Although participants reported that none of their friends suggested they get help, Cash said she is sympathetic to the plight of these friends.
“For the friends reading these posts, they often have to read between the lines since few people came right out and said they were depressed,” Cash said.
“Many people used quotes and song lyrics to talk about how they’re feeling, so their friends really had to decode what they were saying.”
So really, what we may be seeing with these college students is a double whammy. Yes, when they see a friend struggling they are extremely hesitant to suggest seeking help, and they are not educated enough about depression to know what it is when they have it, or be able to recognize it without someone saying they have it.
I don’t know about you, but when I was first struggling with major depression and dissociation it wasn’t like I went around telling people that I was having fugue states and a major depressive episode. I didn’t even know what that meant. Facebook wasn’t around, but I couldn’t have very well gone out and said “hey friends, anyone know what I should do about major depressive episodes?” Of course not. It’d be ridiculous to expect anyone to do that, let alone someone struggling with depression. So we say other things, or we find some odd, quirky way of expressing it, mostly in our behavior and in our language.
That where the people around us come in, and, unfortunately, since many of them are convinced that depression doesn’t happen to people like us, or isn’t talked about in public, they have no idea what depression might actually look like, and since their friends aren’t coming out and sharing a diagnosis, they aren’t attuned to the possibility that they might need help, and even if they somehow are attuned to it, they’re not suggesting they might get help.
That combination of not being aware, and there being so much stigma around getting help is not going to help with the epidemic of mental health issues that we see in colleges around the country. We have to do better.
To educate yourself to be better prepared to recognize the signs of depression, or even the signs of suicide risk, see the links below: