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Instagram may act as haven for coping with depression: study

People who suffer from depression are using social media sites such as Instagram and Reddit - that ensure relative anonymity - as a safe medium for sharing sensitive information about themselves and reaching out for help, a new study has found. Depression has a way of silencing its sufferers. Even in today's technology-connected society, people are hesitant to talk about their painful experiences and suffering for fear of being stigmatised.

Though this has been the unfortunate norm for quite some time, new research from Drexel University in the US is steadily uncovering the areas of social network sites where the sufferers are finding solace. Andrea Forte and Nazanin Andalibi from Drexel's College of Computing and Informatics have observed that one way people in pain are overcoming silence is by using Instagram – and recruiting pictures to help them explain the feelings and experiences that are often too painful or complicated to put into words."Physical or mental health and body image concerns are stigmatized, rarely disclosed and frequently elicit negative responses when shared with others," researchers said.

"We found that these disclosures, in addition to deep and detailed stories of one's difficult experiences, attract positive social support on Instagram," they said. They had also observed this sort of self-disclosure and support-seeking behavior among Reddit users - suggesting that the relative anonymity provided by"throwaway" accounts on the forum allowed users to make sensitive disclosures, ask for and receive help. Previous studies had suggested that people avoid sharing their struggles with depression, eating disorders, abuse, mental health challenges and other sensitive issues, on social networks, such as Facebook - for much the same reason they would tend to avoid talking about these things in person - because of the stigma that is attached to them.

The research on Reddit broke new ground in understanding of social media use in stigmatized and sensitive contexts. It also pushed researchers to find how people were using other social network sites to reach out for support."At the same time we were studying interactions on Reddit, we were also looking at Instagram because it is one of the most heavily used social media sites and also allows pseudonymous users, in contrary to Facebook that enforces real-name policies," Andalibi said."And we wanted to see how people might behave differently on a more image-centric, rather than one that is driven solely by textual posts and comments," she said.


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