The media has devoted significant attention to anecdotes of individuals who post messages on Facebook prior to suicide. However, it is unclear to what extent social media is perceived as a source of help or how it compares to other sources of potential support for mental health problems.
This study aimed to evaluate the degree to which military veterans with depression use social media for help-seeking in comparison to other more traditional sources of help.
Cross-sectional self-report survey of 270 adult military veterans with probable major depression. Help-seeking intentions were measured with a modified General Help-Seeking Questionnaire. Facebook users and nonusers were compared via t tests, Chi-square, and mixed effects regression models. Associations between types of help-seeking were examined using mixed effects models.
The majority of participants were users of social media, primarily Facebook (n=162). Mean overall help-seeking intentions were similar between Facebook users and nonusers, even after adjustment for potential confounders. Facebook users were very unlikely to turn to Facebook as a venue for support when experiencing either emotional problems or suicidal thoughts. Compared to help-seeking intentions for Facebook, help-seeking intentions for formal (eg, psychologists), informal (eg, friends), or phone helpline sources of support were significantly higher. Results did not substantially change when examining users of other social media, women, or younger adults.
In its current form, the social media platform Facebook is not seen as a venue to seek help for emotional problems or suicidality among veterans with major depression in the United States.