Turns out Instagram might be good for more than selfies and food porn: People are turning to the photo-sharing platform to open up about their struggles with insecurity and depression — and are actually finding solace, according to a new study from Drexel University.
To conduct the February 2017 study, researchers studied the responses to nearly 800 Instagram posts tagged with #depression out of a pool of 90,000 posts from 24,920 unique users over the span of one month. What they found: The online platform is widely used for health-related conversations and can actually be a useful resource for those seeking mental-health support.
Posting pictures on Instagram can be easier for people who struggle to put their feelings into words, and they view the platform as a safe place where they are part of a community.
"Many of the data we analyzed were specifically about body image and appearance," study co-author Andrea Forte, PhD, told Yahoo Beauty. "If we look at the top 100 tags that occurred together with #depression in our data set, we find terms like #fat #anorexia #beautiful #skinny #bulimic #ugly #thin #starving. When we analyzed the posts, we found that images about food and appearance attracted more responses than many other kinds of posts — both negative and positive comments."
But much to their surprise, the researchers found that the positive comments far outweighed the negative ones. Positive comments included expressions like "you are strong and beautiful," according to study co-author Nazanin Andalibi.
It seems Instagram is on board with this approach. (Good for them!) In the fall of 2016, the platform came out with its own suicide prevention tool that allows users to notify human operators of an emergency when they think someone might be in serious trouble. The operators are then able to provide help by directly messaging with the user in trouble or with his or her friends.
Andalibi said in a press release that she thinks Instagram is taking a step in the right direction, but should focus more on the support groups that are already in the app. "Rather than diverting people away from these platforms, or making design decisions that would further stigmatize sensitive disclosures, they should work to foster these communities of support that are arising organically on their platform."
But while this study highlights Instagram as an effective outlet for people with depression, past studies have suggested that the app is actually responsible for causing depression and affecting self-esteem, especially in women.
The Drexel researchers argue that not everyone is taking to Instagram to show off their bodies, and that more people are turning to Instagram to share personal and sensitive information hoping "to seek support, find similar others, and disclose stigmatized experiences. Importantly, in response they often receive positive support."
Bottom line? Any healthy outlet that brings you comfort is worth a shot!