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At-risk adolescents are less likely to express depression on social media as they age

Pediatric Academic Societies

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TORONTO, May 5, 2018 - Findings from a new study reveal at-risk adolescents are less likely to post about depressive symptoms on social media as they age. The research suggests that adolescents with a diagnosis of depression may feel less stigmatized describing depressed mood on social media than previously hypothesized. The research will be presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2018 Meeting in Toronto.

Social media use can provide important information on the mental health of adolescents, including their own descriptions of their experiences. The purpose of this study was to analyze the patterns of social media posting describing depressive symptoms among an at-risk cohort of adolescents at two time points.

The study measured Facebook posts by participants at two time periods, labeled Time 1 as adolescents and Time 2 as young adults. Content analysis applied the Diagnoses and Statistical Manual (DSM) criteria for depression to identify displayed depression symptoms on Facebook.

The study found that the average number of references to depression among displayers was 9.30 at Time 1 and 4.94 at Time 2, showing a dramatic decrease in posts between adolescents and young adults.

"Considering differences between posts in Time 1 and Time 2, it is suggested that as teens develop, the likelihood to express depressive symptoms is lowered," said Dr. Kathleen Miller, one of the authors of the study. "This may be related to the development of the prefrontal cortex which plays a role in inhibiting impulsive decisions."

Examples of posts referencing depression included "Basically at the point of giving up" and "Feeling the worst right now, just wanting to cry." The average number of references to suicide or self-harm was .34 at Time 1 and .08 at Time 2.

Dr. Miller will present the abstract, "Social Media Posting in At-Risk Adolescents: Content Analysis of Facebook Posts Describing Symptoms of Depression," during the PAS 2018 Meeting on Sunday, May 6 at 5:45 p.m. EDT. Reporters interested in an interview with Dr. Miller should contact PAS2018@piercom.com.

Please note: Only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have additional data to share with media.

The PAS 2018 Meeting, taking place in Toronto on May 5-8, 2018, brings together thousands of pediatric scientists and other health care providers to improve the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more information about the PAS 2018 Meeting, please visit http://www.pas-meeting.org.

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About The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting

The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting brings together thousands of pediatricians and other health care providers united by a common mission: improve the health and well-being of children worldwide. This international gathering includes researchers, academics, as well as clinical care providers and community practitioners. Presentations cover issues of interest to generalists as well as topics critical to a wide array of specialty and sub-specialty areas. The PAS Meeting is produced through a partnership of four pediatric organizations that are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy: American Pediatric Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Academic Pediatric Association and American Academy of Pediatrics. For more information, please visit http://www.pas-meeting.org. Follow us on Twitter @PASMeeting and #PAS2018, or like us on Facebook.

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Abstract: Social Media Posting in At-Risk Adolescents: Content Analysis of Facebook Posts Describing Symptoms of Depression

Background: Social media use can provide important information on the mental health of adolescents, including their own descriptions of their experiences.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to describe the patterns of social media posting describing depressive symptoms among an at-risk cohort of adolescents at two time points.

Design/Methods: Participants were recruited who were enrolled in a longitudinal cohort study that had oversampled for depression. Eligible participants were friended on Facebook, and content analysis was performed at two time points: Time 1 as adolescents and Time 2 as young adults. Content analysis applied the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) criteria for depression to identify a displayed depression symptom on Facebook. Variables included the number and type of Facebook posts referencing DSM-5 symptoms of depression.

Results: A total of 85 participants were included in this study. 28/85 participants at Time 1 were classified as displayers (those displaying any symptoms) and 35/85 participants at Time 2 were classified as displayers. The average number of references to depression among all participants was 5.37 at Time 1 (range 0 - 33) and 2.25 at Time 2 (range 0-15). The average number of references to depression among displayers was 9.39 at Time 1 and 4.94 at Time 2. Examples of posts referencing depression include "Basically at the point of giving up" and "Feeling the worst right now, just wanting to cry." The average number of references to suicide or self-harm was 0.34 at Time 1 and 0.08 at Time 2.

Conclusion(s): Displayers had decreased references to depression at Time 2 than at Time 1 on social media, suggesting that adolescents are less likely to post about depressive symptoms they age. This may be related to development of the prefrontal cortex which plays a role in inhibiting impulsive decisions. Sleep was the only symptom that increased in frequency from Time 1 to Time 2, suggesting that the distribution of symptoms may vary by age. Surprisingly, one of the most commonly described symptoms in Facebook posts at both Time 1 and Time 2 was depressed mood, suggesting that adolescents with a diagnosis of depression may feel less stigmatized describing depressed mood on social media than previously hypothesized.

Authors: Kathleen K. Miller, Ann VanderStoep, Elizabeth McCauley, Molly Adrian, Megan A. Moreno

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