While the fear of being stigmatised prevents many of us from making sensitive self-disclosures, one way people in pain are overcoming silence is by using the photo-sharing app Instagram, a study says.
Some Instagram users are using pictures to help explain the feelings and experiences that are often too painful or complicated to put into words, the researchers said.
"We wanted to see how people might behave differently on a more image-centric platform, rather than one that is driven solely by textual posts and comments," said one of the researchers Nazanin Andalibi from Drexel University in Philadelphia, US.
"Physical or mental health and body image concerns are stigmatised, rarely disclosed and frequently elicit negative responses when shared with others," the study authors said.
"We found that these disclosures, in addition to deep and detailed stories of one's difficult experiences, attract positive social support on Instagram," the study said.
The researchers examined the responses to a sample of 800 Instagram posts pulled from more than 95,000 photos tagged with "#depression" that were posted by 24,920 unique users over the course of a month.
The findings showed that not only are people using Instagram to make sensitive disclosures, but they are also getting mostly positive support from the people who respond to the posts, and little in the way of negative or aggressive comments.
Some users view Instagram as a safe medium for sharing sensitive information about themselves and reaching out for help, the study said.
The findings are scheduled to be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's International Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing to be held from February 25 to March 1, in Portland, Oregon, US.
Perhaps in a nod of acknowledgement to the fact that this community exists on the site, Instagram recently rolled out a suicide prevention tool that allows users to alert operators when they think someone might be in serious trouble.
The operators are able to provide help or connect users with the information they need to find it.
While this is a step in the right direction, according to Andalibi, it is only the first of many that need to be taken to truly reach these communities of users.
"Social media platforms like Instagram, that people have adopted to connect with 'similar others' to share their difficult experiences, and seek and provide support, should explore ways to facilitate safe and supportive connections," Andalibi said.