Original article| Volume 52, ISSUE 1, P122-127, January 2013

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“Just Talk to Me”: Communicating With College Students About Depression Disclosures on Facebook



      To determine acceptability, preferred communication medium, and other key considerations for intervention by friends, professors or resident advisors, and strangers in response to college students' references to depression on the social networking site Facebook.


      Facebook profiles belonging to 18- to 19-year-old students (n = 60) at a large public university were evaluated for references to depression. In-person, structured interviews assessed how students would prefer to be approached by a friend, professor or resident advisor, or stranger if that person saw displays of depression on the student's Facebook page. We coded interview transcripts for approach acceptability, communication medium, and emerging themes. We used chi-square tests to assess differences between depression displayers and non-displayers.


      The sample was 60% female with a mean age of 18.5 years. All students were accepting of intervention approaches by friends. Most (93%) were accepting of an approach by known adults. Approximately half would accept an approach by a stranger, but this proportion was 26% lower among those who had displayed depression references on Facebook than among non-displayers (p = .072). In-person communication was preferred for approaches made by friends and adults. E-mail or using a student's friend as an intermediary was preferred if a stranger were to intervene.


      In-person communication from friends or trusted adults is the preferred means for raising concerns about a student's signs of depression displays on Facebook. Programs that encourage resident advisors and peers to respond in this manner and encourage treatment may represent a way to improve access to care for depression.


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