People Are Using Pinterest To Talk About Their Depression

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Pinterest isn't just for finding your next mason-jar-based craft. Now, the site has its own thriving mental-illness-focused community. And in a new study, researchers argue that we should be paying way more attention.

For the study, to be published in an upcoming issue of Public Relations Review, researchers looked at 783 pins found by searching Pinterest for depression-related words (e.g. "clinical depression"). Then, the researchers analyzed the images to see the ways people were portraying mental illness on the social platform and how users were responding to those images.

They found that almost one in 10 of the images they'd collected mentioned suicide or suicidal thoughts. Another 7% mentioned cutting or other types of self-harm. However, the major problem with all of this is that the researchers didn't find much actual helpful advice for coping with these thoughts and behaviors. About 60% of the pins they found didn't make a reference to any specific kind of coping. Of those that did mention coping, over half mentioned a dysfunctional coping method, such as pretending everything is okay rather than seeking help.

Like Tumblr before it, Pinterest has become a place for its users to honestly state how they feel and the distress their mental health problems cause them. But this comes without encouragement to seek the professional help that's so often necessary to really confront these issues. Instead, pins are repinned and liked and repinned again, validating and almost celebrating these dysfunctional coping methods.

So, the study authors argue, actual health organizations should be active on Pinterest, too, to offer practical advice and a way for users to reach out. Knowing we're not alone in our feelings is extremely valuable, but we need support to help us get healthier, too.
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