I’m just gonna try to make you smile for a second: Here are seven subreddits you should look at

Does the internet help with depression in the long term? Social media definitely doesn’t.

But, that’s not to say that all social media is evil. Some of it is downright wonderful.

One of the most popular social media/internet forums is Reddit. Reddit, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the longest running internet communities of…anything. And I mean anything.

For those of you who want more info, this video is a good starting point:

Reddit is made up of a series of topic discussion boards, called subreddits, that are organized around certain topics.

Now, just to be clear, like all forms of the internet, Reddit can be absolutely, positively terrible. It’s comment can be insanely abusive and it’s sleuthing “abilities” have led mobs on wild vigilante quests. Thankfully, most of these uses are rare, and if you stick to the right subreddits, you can find some amazing content, guaranteed to make you smile.

So, even if you don’t have a Reddit account (you don’t need one), here are seven subreddits which will absolutely bring a smile to your face.

  1. BeforeNAfterAdoption: Pictures of kitties, puppies and the like, before they are adopted and after. They go from beaten and beaten down to happy and playful.
  2. Aww: It’s just cute things. It’s just cute, cuddly things that will make you go AWWWWWWW.
  3. DadReflexes: If you’re a Dad (or Mom, let’s be real), you know the meaning of this phrase – you get so good at watching your kid that you reflexively can move to keep them out of trouble. These are videos and GIFs which show prime examples of Dad Reflexess saving their kids from trouble.
  4. AnimalsBeingBros: Sounds like you need some more cute animal videos! Here’s animals being friends with each other. Wish humans could get along this well.
  5. Funny: Arguably the most self-descriptive subreddit name ever. Also, yes, it really is funny.
  6. PhotoshopBattles: People will upload great pictures for the purpose of being photoshopped into amazing situations. Examples include cats being kicked in the face by other cats, police officers with two foot differences between them, and more. Words aren’t going to do it justice. Go look!
  7. UpliftingNews: The news is terribly depressing. Here’s a thread of amazing, wonderful news which shows that maybe the world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket at quite the speed it seems like it is.

Any other good subreddits to share? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Your smartphone can tell if you’re depressed

person using phonwYou know how I’ve written about how social media and phones can cause depression? Well, it turns out, your phone can also tell if you are depressed.

The study, from the University of Stanford, shows that face and speech software on your phone can detect depression based on your facial expressions and speech patterns:

The researchers fed video footage of depressed and non-depressed people into a machine-learning model that was trained to learn from a combination of signals: facial expressions, voice tone, and spoken words. The data was collected from interviews in which a patient spoke to an avatar controlled by a physician.

In testing, it was able to detect whether someone was depressed more than 80% of the time. The research was led by Fei-Fei Li, a prominent AI expert who recently returned to Stanford from Google.

The article did caution that, due to the way the study was conducted, the therapeutic applications aren’t clear. According to David Sontag, an assistant professor at MIT:

…that the training data was gathered during an interview with a real clinician, albeit one behind an avatar, so it isn’t clear if the diagnosis could be entirely automated. “The line of work is interesting,” he says,“but it’s not yet clear to me how it’ll be used clinically.”

I have two thoughts about this type of treatment. First, this is fascinating – and this type of technology be helpful in terms of closing the gap between those who have access to treatment and those who don’t. In addition to studies like the one above, Stanford has also developed apps which can be used to treat depression – and which apparently work. I’ve touched on this topic in previous entries as well: Apps which treat depression can work.

In other words, apps and automated programs can help to treat depression. That’s fascinating to me – I never would have believed that depression could be treated without a live, human person, but apparently it can work.

On the other hand, there are some rather frightening potential applications of this sort of treatment. First is privacy: I am sure that any app working right now is operating with the strictest of privacy measures and data safeguards, but as we have seen repeatedly, data hacks and breaches occur with relative consistency. This has some very serious implications for something like text therapy or therapy which occurs over a device, because it begs the question: What data is recorded, and how could it potentially be accessed? I mean, I’m pretty open about the fact that I receive treatment, but even I wouldn’t want the items I discuss with my therapist broadcasted to the whole word. Is that possible with these apps? I don’t know, and it may not be. But there are real privacy and technological concerns which must be addressed when it comes to therapy delivered electronically.

Second: Can someone be diagnosed against their will? I don’t think so. Not yet, anyway. Later down the line, programs like the one discussed above may also have issues with consent. It seems to me that the Stanford program is not yet ready to be used in a public or even therapeutic setting. But, when it is, will people be able to use it on others without their consent? That…that’s kind of a scary thought.

These are questions which are only somewhat hypothetical. Technology is clearly advancing, and I can only hope privacy and ethical safeguards can advance with it.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

New study links social media and depression

I’ve written about it before, and now there is even more proof: A new study has linked social media and depression

I caught this article in Forbes, which notes:

The team calculated that for every 10% rise in negative social media interactions a person experienced, their risk of depression rose significantly—by 20%. For every 10% rise in positive experience, risk for depression fell by 4%; but this association was not statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance.

Lovely. In other words, negative experiences on social media can make us depressed, and they far outweigh the positive ones. Why? According to the conclusion of the study, this is because of “negativity bias” – meaning that people are more likely to remember and feel negative experiences, rather than positive ones.

I don’t need to go on too long of a rant, I think, about the serious dangers of social media when it comes to our fragile mental health. The connection is clear, albeit not in a causational way just yet (there needs to be more research to determine if people who are prone to depression are more likely to use social media, if social media really does make people depressed or if there is a third factor linking the two).

That being said, I think it is extremely clear that social media and technology, for all their strengths, can have an absolutely devastating impact on our mental health. I legitimately wonder if, decades from now, we’re going to look back on this period as a turning point in our society, one where we first truly began to deal with the psychological dangers of society, or continued to allow it to eat us alive.

I’m pretty young – only 35 – so it’s not as if I have the memory or expertise to analyze how each technological impact benefited and hurt society. I suspect that the answer is both. However, I think that the reason that these changes seem so much more pronounced and ubiquitous is because the technology has evolved too. Phones never leave our side – they are often the first and last things we touch during the day, and we spend hours staring at their tiny screens, searching for connection and fulfillment that will never really come. They are everywhere, and so is their impact.

That, I think, is why these changes seem so much more widepsread. Rates of depression and suicide are both increasing dramatically, and there is ample evidence which indicates that phone use and social media is playing a role. We need to do more about this issue. What that means, I don’t know yet, but I want to find out.

Sigh. End rant. I miss anything? Anything you want to add? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

Three ways social media can be good for your mental health…I guess….

Despite my own personal obsession with social media, I have written repeatedly about how bad it can be for your mental health. That being said, I remembered something the other day: Social media changed my life in a very important way. It was through someone else’s stupidity, but that still counts!

Allow me to refer to a blog entry last week:

Let me go backwards. Robin Williams completed suicide on August 11, 2014. He had long suffered from a slew of mental health challenges, including depression and substance abuse. However, Williams was suffering from “diffuse Lewy body dementia,”which ultimately contributed heavily to his suicide.

William’s suicide ultimately inspired me to go public with my story. That started when some idiot on Facebook decided to spout off shortly after Williams’ death by saying something along the lines of, “So sad Robin Williams committed suicide. He just needed to pray to Jesus more!”

No, you schmuck, that’s not how it works, and that ignorant comment got me so damn fired up that I wrote an op-ed in my local paper, detailing my own struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. That, in turn, set my career in motion in a very different way, making me become much louder about mental health issues. I’ve spoken at events detailing my own struggles, cofounded a mental health caucus, appeared in PSAs and introduced legislation designed to help those who are suffering from mental health challenges. I know that the work I’ve done in this realm has helped people – and I know I have a lot more to do to help more.

As much as I hate to admit it, while thinking of this moment the other day, I realized something: It happened because I was on Facebook at that one specific moment. If I hadn’t been, I would never have had this very positive, life-changing experience. My life would be dramatically worse.

So, even I must admit: Social media can be good for your mental health.

How else can it be helpful? Here’s a few thoughts, but with an important caveat: It all depends on the users. Social media can be good for your mental health, but that only occurs if you are willing to approach it from a certain perspective and/or change your way of thinking.

1) Social support: I firmly believe that social media cannot replace real-world interactions – but that’s not to say that they don’t have a place. Social media can help people feel connected to each other if people join supportive groups, develop healthy relationships and give as much as they take over the course of regular conversations. It can also make it easier to discuss important problems:

A common dilemma among people with mental illness (including depression) is the reluctance to talk to people closest to them about their problems. More and more young people are turning to the Internet for health advice, including topics such as contraception, acne treatments, etc. Far from being a singularly-destructive force in their development, social media can, in fact, do quite the opposite.

This is the opposite of the unrealistic expectations that haunt so many on social media. Instead of making people feel more isolated, it makes them feel more connected – and less alone.

2) You can get closer and learn more about people you’re already friends with: My wife and I have a running joke that, whenever we go to a public event, someone will say something to me about my most recent Facebook post. I try to return the favor whenever possible. Social media – when used to strengthen real world relationships – can be very helpful.

3) You can actually learn something: We’ve all seen it – the political conversation that isn’t really so much a “conversation” as it is “two idiots yelling at each other and accomplishing nothing other than polluting your Facebook wall with their mind garbage.” Social media isn’t always the most conductive place to have a political conversation – but, imagine, for a moment, that you approach a political debate with a different perspective. A willingness to listen and to learn. It is possible to actually learn something from social media debates if you can change your mindset and approach these conversations with an open mind. Maybe you won’t be convinced of someone else’s viewpoint, but hopefully, at least, you can better understand their perspective, and that’s exceptionally important in today’s fragmented society.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. What am I missing here? Let us know in the comments!

Put down the damn phone

The above picture was taken the other day. My wife and I were lucky enough to go see Haim (my favorite group!) at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve been reading this fascinating book lately: How To Break Up With Your Phoneby Catherine Price. It is, as the name says, all about learning to live your life with less reliance and obsession with your phone. To be clear, it isn’t about stopping phone use, but being more conscious of it’s use.

At one point, the book offered this: Take a look around, wherever you are. How many people are on their phones? I’d never really done it, so I thought, sure. I looked and saw this picture. All those little lights? Phones. And the picture doesn’t do it justice – there were plenty more. Granted, this was a relatively young audience and it was before the concern started, but I was still floored. Most of the folks on their phones seemed to be sitting with other people. Were we all really ignoring our friends and loved ones to stare at a shiny box?

I’ve written about it before, but it seems worth saying again: Put down your phone, if you can and if you don’t need to have it in your hand. I have to admit that I can’t believe I’m typing this, because I am notoriously bad with phone use, but it is something I am trying to change because I have to.

Why should you try to use your phone less? Well….

Price makes a couple of arguments that never quite occurred to me before as well: Every second with our phones is a moment robbed from doing something else, be it reading a book, taking in nature, hanging with family and friends, whatever. We take our phones out when we are bored, but it is in the moments that we pause for silent reflection that our brains have time to catch up with the world, to process and to develop new ways of thinking and insight into current problems.

Just to be clear, I don’t want to put my phone completely down, and I don’t plan on doing so. A better way to addressing when to pick your phone up and when to put it down, as far as I am concerned, is to make sure you know why you are using your phone. Are you doing it because you are bored? Do you want to get lost in the “scroll hole”? If so, maybe reconsider your use. But is there a conscious reason you want to use your phone? Looking for a fact that came up naturally in the course of a conversation with your friend? Want to show them that hilarious video? Those uses make sense to me, as they are part of an overall social interaction.

Again, I highly recommend How To Break Up With Your Phone. It’s been helpful to me already. It also encourages you to download an app to track your use, and I already did that, going with Moment.

Any thoughts you want to add to this? I’d love to hear them because I want to know if this prospective is one that’s shared. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Facebook to enhance efforts to stop suicide

I’ve written before about how bad social media can be for your health.  It can be terrible for anyone, but particularly young people.  Unfortunately, there is research which shows that social media may be contributing to a rise in teenage suicides, and that it is almost  certainly contributing to increased depression and anxiety among teenagers.  Those findings are even stronger for woman then men, and teenage women have also seen a higher increase in teenage suicide (please keep in mind, correlation does not equal causation).

There’s some good news on the horizon: It seems that Facebook is unveiling new tools to catch users who may be at risk of attempting suicide.  According to Facebook’s website, it will be doing three things:

  • Using pattern recognition to detect posts or live videos where someone might be expressing thoughts of suicide, and to help respond to reports faster
  • Improving how we identify appropriate first responders
  • Dedicating more reviewers from our Community Operations team to review reports of suicide or self harm

As noted by the Washington Post, Facebook will be using artificial intelligence to scan posts and comments for suicidal potential, allowing posts to be found sooner and addressed to authorities:

Facebook said that it will use pattern recognition to scan all posts and comments for certain phrases to identify whether someone needs help. Its reviewers may call first responders. It will also apply artificial intelligence to prioritize user reports of a potential suicide. The company said phrases such as “Are you ok?” or  “Can I help?” can be signals that a report needs to be addressed quickly.

n the case of live video, users can report the video and contact a helpline to seek aid for their friend. Facebook will also provide broadcasters with the option to contact a helpline or another friend.

This…well, this is actually great.  I have repeatedly come down pretty hard on technology in terms of it’s impact on mental health, but this is unquestionably a good thing.  What’s most interesting to me is that Facebook is using artificial intelligence to try to reduce suicides; technology causes a problem, and technology is then used to limit said problem.

There are, of course, limits to the effectiveness of this new initiative.  Yes, it can potentially catch a person in crisis and stop them from hurting themselves.  But it won’t do anything to stop a person from reaching that point.  Social media can still do enormous harm individuals from a mental health perspective, and that’s why it is so important that anyone using social media do so responsibly and in a manner which ensures that they won’t make themselves more depressed.

Still, it’s good to see Facebook acknowledge this issue and try to do something to fix it.

How to look at social media and not want to throw your phone out a window

As I’ve written before, social media can be really, really, really bad for your mental health.  This is for a variety of reasons, including:

  • It inspires unrealistic comparisons between yourself and others.
  • It creates unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of how someone should be living their life.
  • It can lead to increased feelings of isolation.
  • It can inspire jealousy.

All of this, and more, are why I am going to be paying particular attention to research and experiences as they pertain to social media and mental health.  I swear, it’s almost like we need a primer on how to teach people to use social media at this point.  I’m looking at my kids – they are 6 and almost 5 – and terrified of the day that I will have to relent, give them a phone, and allow them to be exposed to the world that isn’t real.

Let me go back to what I just said: A primer.  Seriously, we need that when we go on social media!  The world that appears in our newsfeed can be so fake, so overwhelming and so depressing, that I think it’s important that we keep a few things in mind when we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more.  Some initial thoughts:

First, and most importantly: THIS.  IS.  NOT.  THE.  REAL.  WORLD.  Say it with me now: “Social media is not the real world.”  That happy, smiling family?  Probably upset as often as you.  That sweet looking couple?  They have struggles, too.  Social media allows for a very biased view of the world, where everyone looks shiny and happy and pretty.  It is so, so important to keep in mind that there is very little about social media that is real.  People choose to present a biased picture of themselves, one in which they seem perfect, even if they aren’t.  If you can keep that in mind while scrolling through your newsfeed, odds are good that you won’t be quite as miserable while you scroll.

Second, approach social media with a Dale Carnegie perspective.  I took a Dale Carnegie course about a decade ago and it changed my life.  One of the most important lessons I learned was this: No one wants to hear about you.  In the course of public discourse, instead of focusing obsessively on yourself, focus on other people and how you can make them feel good.  To that end, when you are on Facebook and Instagram, don’t scroll through your feed looking for likes and clicks on your own content.  Instead, approach social media from the prospective of how you can make someone else happy.  Like other people’s comments.  Try to be joyful and happy for their accomplishments.  Instead of comparing yourself to others, try to just be happy for other people.

And yes, I know that is easier said than done.

Third, stop comparing yourself.  Yes, this is directly related to item #1: If you use social media and think, “Why aren’t having as good a time as Jimmy is?” you are going to make yourself depressed.  If you use it and think “Well, good for them, they are having fun!” you’ll be fine.  Remember, in this instance, treat social media like the real world: Do you run around, comparing yourself to random people that you see on the street?  I hope not.

Anything else to add?  Let us know in the comments!

Google launches depression screening tool

I caught this over the weekend and found it to be very interesting: Apparently, Google has launched a tool that serves as a brief depression screening.

First, about the screening.  It is the PHQ-9, which is only nine statements.  It asks users to select the level of agreement with nine statements, ranging from “Not at all” to “Nearly every day.”  They include items like, “Little interest or pleasure in doing things” and “Feeling tired or having little energy.” The information can then be shared with the user’s health care provider and used to seek treatment.

This is noteworthy for many reasons.  The screening will pop up in the event that “depression related searches” are made, similar to the way that the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) pops up for suicide related searches.  Given the prevalence of Google in modern life, this can, hopefully, help make people more aware of mental illness and steer them to treatment options.  This is also particularly important, given the spike in suicide-related Google searches.  That spike, incidentally, is tied to 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, a show I suspect I will be writing about in the future.

Indeed, I’d argue that the most significant reason that the availability of the depression questionnaire is important is because of the major rate of spikes in suicide that we are seeing.  Suicides are rising across the board, but particularly for young girls aged 15-24, who have seen suicide rates increase to 40 year highs.  Obviously, this is the generation that is the most technologically dependent, so increasing their awareness about mental illness and treatment options can be a very, very good and healthy thing.

As good of a thing as this is – and it really, really is a good thing – depression screenings are not without their problems.  There are some studies which report that versions of the PHQ can demonstrate “poor specificity in detecting major depression” or false positives.

That being said, for the sake of argument, let’s assume the absolute worst about the PHQ-9: That it leads to an unacceptably high amount of false positives for depression.  Google’s use of it is still a great:

  • First, false positives is very different than false negatives.  A single accurate, positive test about the PHQ-9 can steer people into treatment and give them the help that they so desperately need.
  • Second, it can help move positive views of mental illness in a positive direction.  Too many people still view mental illness as a weakness or something that can simply be conquered by willpower.  That, of course, isn’t the case anymore than a broken arm can be healed by well-wishes.  Having a source viewed as positively as Google advertise depression screenings can, hopefully, convince people of the importance of seeking treatment for mental health.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Let us know in the comments!