According to a new study, the social media site Pinterest has a depression problem, and little is being done to treat it.

The research, conducted by communications scholars from the University of Georgia and Virginia Commonwealth University, showed that fully 10 percent of the images "pinned" on the social media platform refer to thoughts of suicide, and "more than half of the pins referred to the seriousness and severity of depression."

Given the apparent epidemic of depression on the site, you might think that public health organizations would take advantage of the service to spread counter-messages of hope and options for dealing with stress, anxiety and sadness. Yet, the authors of the study say that the vast majority of "coping strategies" offered were "dysfunctional," and posted by individuals rather than organizations.

"There is a lack of representation from other health or medical organizations, and few have been engaged in this kind of dialogue or conversation on Pinterest with individuals who are suffering from or talking about depression," explained study co-author Yan Jin, an associate professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and associate director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication. "What kind of healing processes, support or lifestyle activities do health professionals recommend to these people that they can seek out?"

Apparently, not many. A quick search for "depression coping skills" returns dozens of Pinterest results, but many are unscientific recommendations and assertions, like, "Natural antidepressant: two handfuls of cashews is the equivalent of a prescription dose of Prozac" (which has no scientific backing) and "probiotics heal depression" (which is a drastic oversimplification). While these recommendations are posted by individuals and not health agencies, they are not countered with helpful messages from reputable sources.

Pinterest has 100 million monthly active users, about a third as many as Twitter, yet, according to this data, Pinterest is an under-tapped resource for mental health information.

"This is a great opportunity for health professionals and health public relations professionals," Jin said, suggesting organizations provide "health tips on how to deal with depression [and] facilitate more positive discussions in this community."

The study was published in the journal Public Relations Review, and is available online through ScienceDirect

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