College students who post about their feelings of depression on Facebook may not be encouraged by their friends to seek help from a mental health professional, according to a new study.
In the study, published in the journal JMIR Research Protocols, none of the 33 participating students said their friends helped them reach out to a mental health professional to discuss their problems.
The researchers, including those from The Ohio State University in the US, said most friends of the study participants simply sent supportive or motivating messages instead.
As part of the study, the 33 students reported what type of post they made, how their friends responded, and also completed a measure of depression. Nearly half of the participants reported symptoms which were consistent with moderate or severe depression.
About a third of them indicated they had had suicidal thoughts several days in the previous few weeks. The participants' Facebook posts were mostly of two common themes.
They were either negative emotions like "I just said I felt so alone" -- one student wrote -- or about having a bad day, "Terrible day. Things couldn't get any worse" -- another participant posted.
Together, these two themes appeared in about 45 per cent of the posts reported by the students, the researchers said. Only one of the students directly asked for help, and only three mentioned "depression" or related words, the study said.
While most of the students didn't use words like "depression" in their Facebook posts, many found ways to hint at their mental states without being explicit.
Fifteen per cent of the participants used sad song lyrics, five per cent used an emoji, and another 5 per cent used quoted to express their depressed states.
"It may be because of the stigma around mental illness. Or maybe they didn't know that their symptoms indicated that they were depressed," said Scottye Cash, lead author of the study from The Ohio State University.
According to the researchers, the most common responses from the participants' friends -- about 35 per cent of Facebook post responses -- were simply supportive gestures.
"All my close friends were there to encourage me, and letting me know that everything will be okay," one study participant said.Coming second, the next most common response -- 19 percent of posts -- asked what was wrong.
The participants said they didn't always take such responses positively. "It is hard to tell who cares or who's just curious this way, though," one participant wrote.
"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.
According to the researchers, many people used quotes and song lyrics to talk about how they're feeling, so their friends had to decode what they were saying.
She said the findings point to the need for more mental health literacy among college students so they can recognise signs of depression among their peers and know how to respond.
"Both Facebook and colleges and universities could do more to give these students information about resources, mental health support, and how to recognize the signs of depression and anxiety," she said.