Can Facebook Help Identify Depressed College Students?

Rates of depression among college students are very high. When adolescents leave home and attend college they are faced with many stressors, including drug and alcohol exposure, sexual activity, peer pressure, academic pressure, financial obligations, and homesickness. For many young adults, this can be an exciting, but difficult, time. Depression is one psychological condition that often first presents itself during the college years. Additionally, many young adults feel isolated and do not know where to turn when they are depressed and choose to suicide as an option. Because of the extremely high rates of depressed youth, it is important to find the most effective and efficient means by which to identify them so that treatments can be designed and delivered.

Recently, novel approaches integrating technology have been created to increase the identification of college students with major depression (MDD). Some methods that have been implemented include email campaigns and website advertising. But Jeong Youn Soo of the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital decided to use one of the most popular social networking sites, Facebook, as a way of reaching out to young college students who might be dealing with depression. Soo recently conducted an advertisement campaign designed to recruit and educate college students with MDD and those at risk for suicide. The goal of this experiment was to see if the program would actually identify those with MDD and suicidal ideation, and if it would be cost effective and easy to implement.

Soo implemented the campaign and it took less than 24 hours to get it from concept to delivery. Over six months, 259 college students participated and Soo was able to identify 26% with MDD and 18% with recent thoughts of suicide. The development, delivery, and diagnosis aspects of this program were all very positive. However, the cost of this program was over $11 per student, nearly three times the cost of prior email and website efforts. Soo was disappointed by how few of the young adults took advantage of the educational aspect of the program. “Many did not consider treating MDD a high priority, and most (83.90%) of the depressed students remained untreated,” said Soo. So despite the fact that the Facebook program was successful at identifying those at risk for suicide and MDD, more must be done to motivate these students to get treatment for these potentially life-threatening issues.


  1. Soo, Jeong Youn, et al. Using online social media, Facebook, in screening for major depressive disorder among college students. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology 13.1 (2013): 74-80. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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  • mila


    March 5th, 2013 at 11:03 PM

    I would think facebook would be a good tool to identify.after all, depressed young people would now turn to facebook more often than to a friend.would be interesting to know what were the yardsticks to identify depression in the participants here too.

  • Steven


    March 6th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    I agree totally! It is one thing to be able to identify them, and that is a huge step, but we also have to then be able to motivate them to seek treatment, and that can often times be the most difficult piece.

  • BERK


    March 6th, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    When I read the headline I was thinking more on the lines of studying the activity of opted in users and then looking for signs of depression, or risk for suicide. Guess I was looking into a crystal ball because the method employed here seems a bit too ancient for Facebook.

  • Rebecca


    March 7th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    While it is true that facebook and other social media are parts of the lives of these young people that can no longer be ignored, there is still something that is hard to discern online versus being with a person face to face. I think that there are some subtleties to real life and some nuances that just can’t necessarily be felt and identified if the only info that you are getting from someone is through online activity. With that being said it is nice to have the whole puzzle when searching for answers, and I think that that could include both the online persona of the person who is struggling as well as the real person that you would deal with from day to day.

  • geek


    September 24th, 2013 at 6:13 AM

    heyy i like your post.yes sometimes facebook can help to identify depressed students because most of time depressed students will move on to social media for their peace of mind.and their posts and status on facebook can also helps to identify their state of mind.really good post.keep it up.

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