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Status Check: How You Can Save a Friend by Checking Their Facebook

 Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.19.39 AMThis is one of the last images post to Robin Williams’ Instagram account before his passing

What resurfaced recently in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide is a truth beat into us, but whose implications are all too often ignored – depression doesn’t discriminate.

It can affect anyone, at any stage of their life. Certain segments of the population are more at-risk – young adults seem more susceptible than others – but no one is immune.

There is no single reason it happens either. For some it’s a series of shitty circumstances. For some it’s changes in the brain or prolonged sickness. For others, it’s nothing at all. There is no starting gun – you only know it’s happening once it is. And there’s no tape at the end to tell you when it’s over.

Depression just happens, as the author of this post can personally testify. And it’s that exact ambiguity which makes it so scary.

Equally scary is the fact that there is undoubtedly someone on your Facebook friends list right now who is stuck inside that terrifying ambiguity. About 15% of Australians suffer from a form of depression. That’s 3 in every 20.

This is a post about how to help.

rrThe last image post to Robin Williams’ Instagram. Williams and his daughter, Zelda.

Look closer

Perhaps the most frequent way depression presents itself is in absence. The urge to retreat, become reclusive and socially withdrawn is a large part of depression’s pull. In that regard, your friends’ social media profiles can be a particularly powerful diagnostic tool.

That is, only if you’re looking closer – the very nature of social media means that your newsfeed won’t show when someone posts ‘nothing’. The first step is to go through your friends list and open the profiles of people you haven’t heard from in a while. Start from the bottom and work your way up.

If you notice your friend’s activity has bottomed out over the course of a few weeks or months, or is very minimal, it could be for many reasons, one of which may be depression.



Is there a change?

Silence is not the only warning sign. It’s more one type of a much broader behaviour – a change from the norm.

We all have that person who overshares on social media. But have they kept inexplicably quiet for a bit now? What about that friend who always used to post pics from music festivals, clubbing nights or get-togethers? Have they been posting a lot of pictures taken from home? Or predominantly text-only posts?

It’s noticeable when normally extroverted people become relatively introverted, but it’s important not to ignore the opposite. Some naturally introverted sufferers swing the other way, and overcompensate for their social withdrawal by doubling their social media efforts. Are they reminiscing a lot more than usual? Liking? Commenting?

We all change over time – that’s undeniable. However, the difference between healthy changes and unhealthy ones is hard to parse from afar. None of these are sure-fire ways to tell if your friends are experiencing depression. Only you can really tell.



 Say hi

I want to preface this next bit by saying, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a clinician. I’m not a psychiatrist – I’m a copywriter. I’m a human. That’s it.

For professional advice, please refer to one of the organisations listed at the bottom of this article. You should probably do that regardless.

But as a human, I do feel qualified to offer this piece of advice. If you think, or even just suspect, that someone you know on your friends list could be depressed – say hi.

Send them a private message. Don’t make depression the leading question, because it might be the case that everything’s fine. Just say something along the lines of,

“Hey, how’re you going? Haven’t heard from you in a while.”

Or tag them in something to make them smile. A status update. An old picture. A Buzzfeed list. Anything.

At worst (if you can call it ‘worst’), you’ll have a little idle chitchat with a distant mate. At best, your single act of outreach could mean the world to someone who is right now feeling desperately and impossibly alone.

And it might light up that tape at the finish.



Support and information is available for the distressed or those requiring assistance online regarding mental health issues at Lifeline, beyondblue, Reach Out Australia and Headspace or by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.

By Mark Starmach