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Social media can help people heal after painful experiences

Researchers at Drexel University have found that social media is making it easier for people to discuss painful experiences. The experts say that a recent shift in social media behavior is actually helping people to heal.

“While many use Facebook to largely talk about happy and light topics and believe that to be the expected norm on this platform, some people make complicated decisions to talk about things that are not all that happy,” said lead author Nazanin Andalibi.

“Our research looks at why and how people decide to use social media to share their traumatic experiences that often have a social stigma attached to them.”

The experts focused their study on women who disclosed pregnancy loss on Facebook in order to examine how and why people use social media to share sensitive information.

“Pregnancy loss is a stigmatized reproductive health complication, associated with negative well being effects such as depression and PTSD, changes people’s sense of identity, impacts their relationships, and it often elicits negative or unsupportive responses when disclosed,” explained Andalibi.

“The potential for improved well-being through access to social support makes pregnancy loss a productive context for research on designing social computing systems for safe disclosures and support seeking.”

The team interviewed 27 female social media users who had recently experienced a pregnancy loss. Using this data, they developed a framework for understanding why people are posting painful stories, including the 12 million who recently shared their experiences of sexual assault using the hashtag #MeToo.

The researchers believe that one of the main reasons that people are sharing their feelings of distress on social media is because these platforms have now become part of the healing process.

“People often need to share stigmatized life events and emotions associated with them. However, many do not, and sometimes they suffer as a result of this inhibition due to the psychological distress associated with keeping a secret,” wrote the study authors.

According to the study, another reason for turning to social media is the benefit of sharing with a large network of people. Many of the women interviewed said that it was much easier to tell everyone their news at one time instead of repeating the same painful story in many individual conversations.

“Taken together, awareness campaigns, the efficiency of one-to-many disclosures, and opportunities for anonymous lower-risk disclosures elsewhere contribute to women’s decisions to disclose pregnancy loss experiences on identified social network systems, which, through the mechanism of network-level reciprocation, creates an increasingly disclosure-friendly context for those who come after,” the authors wrote.

The study will be published in the Proceedings of the 2018 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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