Purpose: To investigate the online communications and self-disclosure practices of youth reporting depressive symptomatology.
Method: The Youth Internet Safety Survey was a nationally representative telephone survey of 1501 Internet-using youth between the ages of 10 and 17 years, and one caregiver in their household. Fifty-three percent of youth participants were male and 73% were white race. The purpose of the survey was to obtain prevalence rates for unwanted sexual solicitation, harassment, and unwanted exposure to sexual material among young people online. Questions about current depressive symptomatology were also queried; this variable was defined based upon the DSM-IV definition of a major depressive episode: major depressive-like symptomatology (5+ symptoms of depression and functional impairment in at least one area); minor depressive-like symptomatology (3+ symptoms of depression); mild or no depressive symptomatology (<3 symptoms of depression). Data were cross-sectional and collected between the fall of 1999 and spring 2000. Multinomial logistic regression was used to estimate the conditional odds of reporting DSM-IV-like major or minor depressive symptomatology vs. mild/no symptomatology given the indication of self-disclosure practices and interactions with others online. Males and females were assessed separately.
Results: Talking with strangers online, using the Internet most frequently for e-mailing others, and intensity of Internet use differentiated youth reporting depressive symptoms from asymptomatic peers. Report of depressive symptomatology was not related to most measures of general Internet use nor gender differences. Personal disclosure was significantly more likely to be reported by both young men and young women who reported major depressive symptomatology vs. mild or no symptomatology. Differences were observed for how adolescents choose to self-disclose; females posted pictures of themselves, whereas males were more likely to provide personally identifiable information. Finally, most gender-related variation reflected differences in the magnitude of Internet associations with depressive symptoms rather than the types of Internet use, access, or online communications.
Conclusions: Youth-reported depressive symptomatology is associated with differences in online interactions and self-disclosure practices.