Created on: February 19, 2013 Last Updated: February 20, 2013
In recent months, a good deal of controversy has surfaced around the subject of just what constitutes an invasion of privacy or an infringement on freedom of speech for individuals who post personal opinions and thoughts on social networking sites like Facebook. In a recent twist, a psychology doctoral student from the University of Missouri, has released new findings that suggest that patients who voluntarily allow their mental health practitioner access to data gathered from Facebook could be offering an invaluable tool to help their clinician properly diagnose a potential mental illness.
According to researcher, Elizabeth Martin, Facebook entries may provide one key to assessing clients in a more natural environment and gaining insights into feelings of isolation, paranoia and symptoms of depression that often go unreported. The results of her research have been published in the December 30 issue of Psychiatry Research journal.
Social networking sites are now frequently accessed by employers and supervisors who use gleaned information to hold teaching professionals to a standard that requires them to use greater discretion when posting comments. Some even require workers to voluntarily provide access to their Facebook accounts. This has raised the question of whether status posts made on sites, like Facebook, should be protected by First Amendment Rights to freedom of speech and whether employers have the right to demand access to these posts.
Elizabeth Martin’s research implies that allowing a mental health professional access to Facebook should be voluntary. Appropriate use of the data collected should exclude the potential for harm and, as reported in Live Science, focus on helping practitioners more accurately diagnose and treat certain kinds of mental illness.
In a similar study, a team of researchers from the Universitat Berlin, found that students who frequently updated their statuses on Facebook expressed less feelings of isolation. Led by Fenn Grobe Deters, the scientists studied the perceptions of 100 undergraduate students with respect to feelings of sadness and happiness as well as symptoms of depression. The subjects were divided into two groups and then directed to establish “dummy” Facebook pages. Half of them were asked to frequently update their statuses. Subsequent findings indicated that those students who did so, felt less lonely and experienced more mood elevation than those who did not. Even when students did not receive responses to their posts, just the activity of entering a new status seemed to provide, at least temporarily, a sense of greater connectedness.
Those who have studied the correlation between the assessment of Facebook data and better treatment of mental illness seem to agree that access to Facebook should be voluntary. It also understands that, for some individuals, the idea of being “studied” inside an online social community might feel too much like an invasion of privacy. For others however, the desire to get healthy and receive the best treatment possible might include the willingness to be transparent, not just inside a practitioner’s office, but within the context of social routines. Allowing access to their Facebook accounts could mean better diagnosis as well as improved treatment protocols for those who struggle with mental illnesses every day of their lives.
Learn more about this author, Dr. Deborah Bauers.
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