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Recognizing mental health problems through Facebook

If you were the sole witness to a troubled person peering over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge, would you lunge to hold him back? How about if an acquaintance demonstrated self-destructive behavior or dropped suicidal thoughts on his Facebook status? What is a bystander to do when she is seated at a computer?

The latter questions were the focus of a recent article, which told the story of a UC Berkeley student who overdosed after leaving many hints on Facebook of his steady drug and alcohol abuse. The student's mother wishes she had been alerted sooner to his profile page, which foretold the tragedy of his irreparable brain damage, and others in the article weighed in on the importance of taking action in cases like this:

Aida Ingram, a youth counselor in Clayton, N.J., said it's better to speak up than to assume the person is fine.

"It's a shame for a whole community to watch a child spiral out of control, whether on Facebook or in the real world," said Ingram, whose daughter will soon head to college. "The last thing you want is to go to someone's funeral knowing you saw a worrying Facebook post and did nothing. I'd rather embarrass myself."

Noting that up to 98 percent of U.S. college students use social networks such as Facebook, the article also explains how health experts believe we may be able to benefit from information shared on such sites:

"I think Facebook is a new window on an old problem," said Dr. Megan Moreno, a pediatrician at UW Health in Madison, Wis. Moreno has been studying whether online posts can predict offline problems, from drug and alcohol abuse to depression. "I don't think we can use Facebook to make a judgment, but we can use it as a trigger to ask more questions face-to-face."

Previously: Using Facebook to assess alcohol-related problems among college students
Photo by stofiska

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