Adolescents and young adults frequently post depression symptom references on social media; previous studies show positive associations between depression posts and self-reported depression symptoms. Depression is common among young people and this population often experiences many barriers to mental health care. Thus, social media may be a new resource to identify, recruit, and intervene with young people at risk for depression.
The purpose of this pilot study was to test a social media intervention on Tumblr. We used social media to identify and recruit participants and to deliver the intervention of online depression resources.
This randomized pilot intervention identified Tumblr users age 15-23 who posted about depression using the search term “#depress”. Eligible participants were recruited via Tumblr messages; consented participants completed depression surveys and were then randomized to an intervention of online mental health resources delivered via a Tumblr message, while control participants did not receive resources. Postintervention online surveys assessed resource access and usefulness and control groups were asked whether they would have liked to receive resources. Analyses included t tests.
A total of 25 participants met eligibility criteria. The mean age of the participants was 17.5 (SD 1.9) and 65% were female with average score on the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 of 17.5 (SD 5.9). Among the 11 intervention participants, 36% (4/11) reported accessing intervention resources and 64% (7/11) felt the intervention was acceptable. Among the 14 control participants, only 29% (4/14) of reported that receiving resources online would be acceptable ( P=.02). Participants suggested anonymity and ease of use as important characteristics in an online depression resource.
The intervention was appropriately targeted to young people at risk for depression, and recruitment via Tumblr was feasible. Most participants in the intervention group felt the social media approach was acceptable, and about a third utilized the online resources. Participants who had not experienced the intervention were less likely to find it acceptable. Future studies should explore this approach in larger samples. Social media may be an appropriate platform for online depression interventions for young people.