Depression is a common and serious disorder amongst adolescents, with one in five adolescents experiencing a depressive episode before adulthood. Depression is the fourth leading cause of illness for adolescents aged 15-19 years. While adolescent depression stigma has been a focus of an extensive body of previous research, adolescents’ attitudes towards peers who are not perceived to be “authentically” depressed represent a current gap in the research. Nevertheless, stigmatising attitudes towards ‘attention-seekers’ have been identified in studies of adolescent self-injury and could therefore potentially be relevant for adolescent depression. Stigma is very unhelpful as it often hinders help-seeking as well as increases stress and social exclusion. It is therefore vital that these stigmatising attitudes are explored and understood. We also hope that this research project can provide additional insight into how a diagnosis of depression is understood by adolescents, including adolescents’ perceptions of undiagnosed depression and subthreshold depression (i.e. symptoms of depression which do not meet the full criteria for the illness).

Methods

This project will use a qualitative thematic analysis approach to identify broad themes of adolescents’ discussions on subreddit forums. Relevant threads and comments which involve ‘attention-seeking’ and/or ‘fake depression’ will be explored. Reddit was specifically chosen because it is a large, anonymous public domain discussion platform with a policy of no personally identifiable data and anonymous user accounts.

The research will not directly involve participants. All research participants will be fully anonymised, with a cleaning process which will remove all user handles and any potentially identifiable features. Only threads which are more than 1 month old (i.e. threads that have been moderated) will be included. Findings will be presented using paraphrasing and avoiding any extended quotations. This will mean that forum contributors/ users, or anyone who knows them, will not be able to recognise individual posts or comments. No subreddit titles or links will be included in the cleaned data or in the finished dissertation. Ethical approval has been granted by the School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh. The ethical considerations have been based on the British Psychological Society’s Internet Mediated Research and the Association of Internet Researchers’ Research Ethical Guidelines.

This project is conducted by Katharina Dixon-Ward, a Msc Psychology of Mental Health student at the University of Edinburgh and supervised by Dr Stella Chan. If you are interested in knowing more about the study, please feel free to contact Katharina at k.c.dixon-ward@sms.ed.ac.uk. We will also post a summary of the findings on this website in October.

‘“Faking It”: Perceptions of Depression Inauthenticity and “Attention-Seeking” in Adolescent Subreddit Communities’

We are conducting a new research project to explore adolescents’ attitudes towards peers who are perceived to be attention-seeking, performing or ‘faking’ depression.

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