Pinterest Could Help People With Depression -- If Used Correctly

The platform isn't just mason jars and succulents.

Pinterest is full of bridesmaid dresses, mason jar lanterns and DIY home improvement, but the social media site isn't just for crafts and design inspiration. Pinterest has a very active mental illness-focused community.

But according to a new study from the University of Georgia, those who pin about mental health don't have enough access to the coping tools they need.

<br />This pin, used in a University of Georgia study on depression and social media, portrays dysfunctional coping.

This pin, used in a University of Georgia study on depression and social media, portrays dysfunctional coping.

Researchers analyzed nearly 800 pins on the site relating to depression, surfacing them using search terms like "clinical depression." They found that depression-themed pins elicit a significant amount of engagement, including repins, likes and comments. Some of the pins were explicit in their references to depression, mentioning suicidal thoughts or portraying an image of self-harm. (In fact, about 10 percent of these pins referred to thoughts of suicide.) Others were more subtle, including dark poetry or sad messages.

The pins were more often linked with ineffective coping strategies rather than those that are proactive or professionally vetted, the researchers discovered.

"We found that when depression is being communicated or portrayed on Pinterest via images or text, there is a lack of more proactive coping approaches also being portrayed on Pinterest," study co-author Yan Jin, an associate director of UGA's Center for Health and Risk Communication, said in a statement.

Social media can be helpful for people working to cope with mental illness: Users may sometimes experience feelings of safety and support online when they feel a sense of community and decreased stigma. Pinterest can be an important avenue for expressing themselves and venting, which is a form of coping with stress and depression, according to the researchers.

At the same time, seeking counsel online can be detrimental, especially when an advice-giver isn't a professional or is experiencing mental problems of their own, and the platform lacks perspective from medical experts.

"There is a lack of representation from other health or medical organizations, and few have been engaged in this kind of dialogue or conversation on Pinterest with individuals who are suffering from or talking about depression," said study co-author Jeanine Guidry, a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University. "

The good news is that this lack of available expertise can change: Pinterest lends itself to finding effective ways to help people with mental illnesses.

"This is a great opportunity for health professionals and health public relations professionals to engage in and put in more effective messages out there on this platform, involving such things as health tips on how to deal with depression or providing the right coping mechanism to facilitate more positive discussions in this community," Jin added.

While it sounds simple, looking at happy images really does have mood-boosting effects. With the guidance of professionals, Pinterest seemingly has the potential to foster new, proactive coping techniques for those suffering from mental illnesses.

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