Social media provides a place for users to vent frustrations — whether it's a simple as a bad day or as serious as suicidal thoughts.
After a recent study, sites such as Facebook and Tumblr also offer resources for people who need help dealing with depression, suicide, eating disorders and self-injury.
On its Help page, Facebook provides links to information about eating disorders and suicide. It also has a form where users can report a friend's suicidal content for Facebook administrators.
Melanie Carlson, a master's social work student and co-founder of Synapse of Athens — a group dedicated to advocating for the mentally ill — said social media might show when a person is considering suicide, but she's not sure if it's the best way to help them.
“Sometimes it's really hard, because we have cursory people in our lives who might be friends on Facebook,” she said.
If you don't know someone well in real life, you might overlook signs of a problem in Facebook posts, she said, or you might think there's a cause for concern when there's not.
For different people, it might be easier to talk about depression or suicidal thoughts online or in person, she said.
“There certainly is the cry for help,” she said. “If someone is normally super active and they suddenly withdraws, that could also be a warning sign for mental health issues.”
If students are concerned about a friend's posts online, the best way to help is to listen, recommend professional help and “help them explore the reasons they should stay around,” Carlson said.
In a previous Red & Black article, Kelly Case-Simonson, a psychologist at the University Health Center, also expressed mixed feelings about suicide reporting on Facebook.
“There's part of me that's skeptical and part of me that's hopeful,” she said in 2011. “It's hard to know if people might abuse it and turn in people who don't need help.”
But she said any mention of suicide should be taken seriously – even if someone doesn't actually intend to commit suicide, talking about it is still a sign they want and need help.
Another online resource dealing with mental health is Tumblr, with blogs such as Compassion Alert and Let's Bandage It Up that provide support and advice.
Compassion Alert, according to the blog's FAQ, was started by a 19-year-old “survivor” who wants to comfort and encourage others. Anyone can submit a link of someone who has written on their Tumblr about suicide or feeling upset. Compassion Alert posts these links so followers can reach out to people struggling with depression or suicide and let them know that someone cares about them.
“Has recently discovered she may be suffering from depression and is a little overwhelmed,” reads one post from March 7. “She could really use some love and support right now.”
Carlson said she was skeptical of this approach, because she is manic depressive, and said if she was in a manic phase, she might get paranoid about receiving support from strangers.
“Are you going to try to find where someone lives and go to their house?” she said.
Trying to help people with mental illness online, whether through Facebook or Tumblr, raises privacy issues, she said.
Let's Bandage It Up similarly provides anonymous advice to people dealing with self-harm, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse.
Carlson said that Synapse — which was founded by University students in the master's of social work program — plans to start a YouTube video project similar to Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project, which has personal testimonies to show LGBT teens that life will get easier as they get older.
“I am mentally ill, but I also work with the mentally ill population, and a lot of them don't feel confident that they're ever going to overcome those symptoms,” Carlson said.
The video project will aim to give hope to anyone struggling with mental illness, and “normalize” mental health issues so other people know the mentally ill aren't “crazy,” she said.