Your Facebook comment isn't helping combat depression

Last updated 11:00 20/06/2016

It may show goodwill, but your Facebook message doesn't actually help someone feel better.

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A friend makes a vulnerable Facebook post that they are down or struggling, you make a comment, some encouragement.

Nice. But are you helping?

There was a study done on young teenage girls, all had to solve difficult SAT questions in front of an audience - a very stressful experience for all. Afterwards they were put into four groups. One group was allowed to talk with their mothers in person, the second were allowed to talk to their mothers over the phone, the third were allowed to exchange text messages with their mothers, the fourth were allowed no contact at all. Then their Cortisol and Oxytocin levels were tested.

(Before I continue, Cortisol = stress hormone, Oxytocin = happy hormone)

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The girls who were allowed in-person visits and phone calls with their mothers had lower Cortisol and increased Oxytocin, (less stressed and more happy).

As expected, the girls who had no contact with their mothers had high Cortisol and low Oxytocin, (very stressed, not happy).

But the text message group had similar levels to the no-contact group, proving that verbal speech is a lot more comforting than written text.

So while it may show goodwill to write a wee message, reading it doesn't actually help someone to feel better or less isolated. You didn't know this, so don't feel bad. Just remember it from now on.

Loneliness and depression is more prevalent than ever and social media can make us feel more alone or more connected. It's up to us how we use it.

So here's my challenge to everyone: next time you see a post from someone who is down or struggling, remember this. Remember their post is a subtle request for help and connection, and after you have written your public message of support, follow that up with some real help by calling them on the phone or organising to meet up in real life.

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