Category Archives: Social Media in the News

Adolescents with depression on social media

Before we created the sova websites: sova for adolescents and young adults and wisesova for parents, we wanted to learn about how adolescents with depression and their parents use social media. In user design, you want to know how someone uses a technology tool currently before you try to modify it. Also, we wanted to know whether or not social media was a good strategy to use to reach young people with depression?

We definitely learned some interesting things! Recently, this work was published in the Journal of Adolescence. If you cannot access a copy, I am happy to send it to you if you email me a request.

Some of our main findings included that adolescents with depression:

  • Like using social media to search out information, for distraction, social connection, and share positive content like quotes or funny videos
  • Also use social media in some negative ways like sharing risky behaviors like sneaking out or to compare themselves with others
  • When in a bad mood some adolescents would “stress post” or share a negative thought as a status update as a way to get it off their chest or look for social support
  • Others would “overshare” or share too much personal information or mundane facts about their lives with the effect sometimes leading to cyberbullying
  • Sometimes would feel triggered by posts they would see like of pictures of self-harm

As adolescents got older and got treatment for their depression, they would also change how they used social media in a more positive way. For example, they would send a private message to a friend who had been supportive in the past – versus sending out a Twitter status on a fishing expedition to see who might notice or respond.

These adolescents had a lot of useful information to share about social media and we are happy to share their opinion and observations with the academic world by disseminating this work.  I will be talking about this work and related research at two upcoming conferences for clinicians and families:

The 2017 Annual STAR Center Conference at University of Pittsburgh May 5, 2017


The NAMI Keystone PA Mental Health and Wellness Conference in Harrisburg May 12-13, 2017

We hope you can join the SOVA team there!

“After School” App

We recently learned about the new App for smart phones called “After School.” It’s an app that allows students to anonymously post about sensitive issues. However, many fear that the app may be used for bullying. This article from the Washington Post is how we found out about the app.

After reviewing the new update posted by the developers, we think they have taken a lot of steps to make the app safer. Some of these include 24/7 moderating, an emergency notification system, community guidelines, and the ability for students to remove harmful content. To join your school’s anonymous community, the app uses Facebook and your friends on Facebook to identify that you are friends with other students who belong to your school. If you want to see any sexual or profane content, you have to prove you are over 17 and scan your driver’s license. Still, adolescents are smart, and there are likely ways to hack the system.

What do you think about these updates?  Does it make the app safe? Do you know people who use the app? Tell us about it!

Sharing Mental Illness Online

NPR recently aired an article about a young woman who is telling her story about her schizophrenia on YouTube called “Normal: Living With Schizophrenia.”

She’s fighting stigma, isolation and myths about mental illness with her videos about treatment, day to day life, and how she manages her illness.

John Naslund, a Ph.D. candidate at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice who studies social media and mental health notes in the article: Scientists are only just now beginning to measure the effect social media might have on clinical outcomes. “It’s quite a new area of thinking, online peer-to-peer support for mental illness,” Naslund says.

Which is exactly the community we are trying to create with the SOVA project!

We want to know what you think? What did you think of the news article? Of Ms. Star’s YouTube channel?

Here’s an example of one of her videos below sharing her experiences with electroconvulsive therapy:

Tell us what you think in the comments!

The Internet and Teenager Health

Dr. Ana Radovic was recently interviewed by WESA, the Pittsburgh NPR station in regards to how the internet can provide useful and sometimes not so useful health education for adolescents.

Dr. Radovic noted that given the research done by Northwestern University that 86 percent of teen respondents reported they got at least some health information from online sources.  Furthermore, many of the teens reported that they get “a lot” of information from the internet, or as Dr. Radovic called it “Doctor Google.”

She said: doctors should always keep that in mind when seeing patients, that they can provide a context for the information that the internet cannot.

As we move forward with our study, we like to keep this in mind so that we can help educate adolescents with useful, correct information, and be able to point them toward a health care professional to receive that context of information when it is needed.

You can listen to the full (6 minute) interview here on WESA’s website. 


New Year’s Resolutions are Tough Stuff

New Year’s resolutions can be hard for anyone. We see people posting that they are getting their gym time in, or quitting smoking or starting a new diet all over our social media feeds. At SOVA we know that seeing these things can be really difficult in particular for adolescents who may feel left out if they aren’t making similar resolutions or positive statements. Or, if resolutions aren’t able to be kept adolescents facing depression or anxiety may have compounded feelings of failure or worthlessness.

Photo Credit: Veeramaariaa_ via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Veeramaariaa_ via Compfight cc

As we grow older luckily we better understand that what you see on social media may not be reality. That’s why we are suggesting trying out an intention to carry into the New Year to adolescents and parents using our websites. An intention could be anything a person can come back to when they are struggling: a quote, an image, or something crafted by the person themselves.

An example we gave was “stop the glorification of busy.” Having this simple saying in the back of our mind was a way to slow down and choosing to do things that brought joyfulness into life.

We also suggested engaging in self-care as a healthy option for an intention or resolution.

The SOVA team wishes everyone a happy new year! And we hope that you are able to focus on self-care and intentional mindfulness moving into the New Year.

What do you think? Are resolutions difficult for adolescents? What are some of your suggestions? 


Halloween and Mental Illness Stigma


Photo Credit: ms.Tea via Compfight cc

First of all we here at SOVA want to say “Happy Halloween!”, and we hope everyone has a safe and fun weekend.

Unfortunately with each year comes stigmatizing and hurtful costumes. Mental illness is not a Halloween costume, in fact with 18% of the population suffering from anxiety, and 17% from depression it is a common experience and hardly something that should be portrayed as “scary”, especially since evidence has shown those with mental illness are no more violent than those without mental illness. 

At SOVA we want to reduce the stigma that adolescents facing mental illness encounter in order to receive treatment they need. Can you imagine what it must be like for an adolescent to see their friends dressed up as “Gone Mental”, for example?  Adolescents need to see positive examples of experiences and treatment with mental illness and the earlier they seek treatment the better their outcomes are likely to be.  Attitudes and stigma saying that these kind of costumes are acceptable are what may prevent some teens from getting needed treatment.

I found this guardian article to provide some truthful insight into this frustrating issue.  How do they suggest you create a accurate mental illness costume for Halloween?:

For Depression:

To dress like someone with serious depression, just wear your normal clothes. But you should take several hours to put them on due to a chronic low mood and almost complete lack of motivation. It may be hard to replicate this sensation if you don’t actually have depression, so try wearing a rucksack filled with anvils and bowling balls to get a sense of the effort required to do the most basic task.

For Anxiety:

To dress like someone with serious anxiety, just wear your normal clothes. But you should be fearful of how people will react to your clothes, for no discernible reason.You should be constantly afraid and on edge, for no discernible reason. Occasionally, you should be so overwhelmed by inexplicable fear that it becomes incapacitating. You may try to offset this unreasonable fear by feeling compelled to perform constant repetitive actions which feel as though they help despite there being no real logical justification for this. You shouldn’t stop thinking about them though.

Most importantly the article concludes:

You may think that the “costumes” described here don’t sound at all enjoyable, making it seem like serious mental illness is no fun at all.

Yes. Funny how that works.

If possible, please speak up this Halloween season if you see anyone wearing an offensive costume.

If you are interested in reaching out to companies selling these costumes, Mental Health America has some great information on who to contact.

Social Media Use in Teens

The role of technology in the lives of teenagers is important for researchers to understand, especially for a project like SOVA. The Pew Research Center released some very interesting statistics from a pool of 1060 teens aged 13-17 years old from across the United States- investigating their use of social media.

4510214663_8271b56543_o elvissa via Compfight cc

The results, unsurprisingly, showed that more than half of teens (56%) are online several times a day. As far as what teens are doing when they are online the survey showed that they are using social media, with Facebook being the most popular website (71%) followed by Instagram (52%) and Snapchat (41%). The study also found that 71% of teens are using more than one social network which is great news for SOVA as we try to integrate our site into the online lives of teens and young adults.

The Pew Research Center will soon be releasing the data they collected from parents of teens – which will be valuable for helping us understand how parents use social media for WiseSOVA.

Using Crowdsourcing in Online Social Networks to Combat Depression

Greetings, Friends!

WIRED Magazine recently published an article that discusses MIT’s Robert Morris and his unique and exciting research on crowdsourcing  a peer-to-peer cognitive reappraisal platform.  Similar to SOVA, Morris’s project is aimed at improving the mental health of those struggling with depression by using a web-based intervention.  The intervention, Panoply, is an interactive platform that relies on evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy as a means to reframe and reassess negative thoughts.  Panoply provides an electronic platform for posting content, responding to others, and receiving responses.  On the front end, users can use this as a tool in their cognitive behavioral therapy.  On the back end, Mechanical Turk provides sincere, human-based interactions.  Looking ahead, Morris and his start-up team at Koko are currently working toward developing Panoply into a consumer app.

Do any of you already know of research using Mechanical Turk or other crowdsourcing measures to reach end users?  What do you think about Robert Morris’s research?  Is there anything you think the SOVA team can learn from what he has done?

We want to know your thoughts!

Depression and Social Networking Sites

Hi Everyone!

Recently the Huffpost wrote about how Facebook has new ways to connect people who may mention suicidal statements in their status updates with resources that can help. This is especially relevant as young people do display depressive symptoms on social media.  Currently, 1 out of 4 adolescents are updating their statuses with signs of depression. Research is beginning to pop up that suggests we could use data mining to identify suicidal language on social networking sites.  Because of these trends, popular sites are beginning to address the issue of suicidality-related posting., a social action site for young people, created a crisis text line site that offers support for young people 24/7. 

Have any of you heard of other organizations that have found creative ways to address these issues? 

What do you think about these initiatives, and how can they be improved?

We want to know your thoughts!