A psychologist has suggested that social networking sites can help teenagers cope with suicidal depression.
University of Alberta researcher Elaine Greidanus said that many teens are more likely to log-on to a website for emotional support than pick up a phone or see a counsellor.
Greidanus, a graduate student in educational psychology, studied a dozen participants at an online help site where teens create anonymous threads.
Trained volunteers, who helped the adolescents, would write messages including: 'It sounds like you are experiencing a lot of pain right now,' 'What are some things that give you strength in your life?' and 'If you read some of the other threads, you may be surprised that several people have similar feelings.'
Greidanus also found that volunteers would frequently suggest specific resources including local telephone distress lines or talking to a counsellor.
The teens were able to get advice from the site volunteers and from other adolescents who were online.
Greidanus noticed messages of empathy including: 'Stop hurting yourself, I care for you!' and 'You should go to the doctor.'
She found that these messages helped the participants to develop a relationship and a sense of community with their peers.
Dr Robin Everall, a psychologist, university professor and expert in adolescent suicidal behaviour, said: "Accessing adolescents and providing services in a way that they will actually seek help is a critical issue.
"Understanding how adolescents interact and communicate with each other on the internet can open new channels for connecting with distressed youth."
Dr Everall added that it is encouraging to know that well designed and monitored cyber-communities are being used effectively.
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