Social Media May Benefit Patients With MS-Associated Depression

July 19, 2020
Skylar Jeremias
Skylar Jeremias

By delivering helpful information and fostering online communities, social media may provide rehabilitation and psychological benefits for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who have depression, according to the results of a recent Iranian study.

By delivering helpful information and fostering online communities, social media may provide rehabilitation and psychological benefits for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who have depression, according to an Iranian study published in Acta Nerologica Belgica. The study is the first to bring to light the positive effects that the internet and social media can have on patients with MS who have depression.

MS-associated depression occurs in up to 25% of patients, but previous studies in Iran have seen depression rates reach as high as 60%, with 44.1% of patients with MS having unrecognized or untreated cases of depression. Depression in patients with MS can be attributed to the underlying pathology of the disease and is considered to be an adverse outcome stemming from diminished well-being. Often, patients with MS-associated depression have difficulty adhering to treatment regimens, and this can create a cycle of a reduced quality of life and depression.

“Considering that people with MS are vulnerable to poor psychological health, disempowerment, and social exclusion, including high unemployment and economic problems, this tendency to use online resources can potentially exert a positive influence on adherence to treatment, coping measurements, patient empowerment, and physician—patient relationship,” said the researchers.

For the study, they enrolled 95 Iranian patients with MS between the ages of 18 and 55. Patients were considered to not use social media if their regular social media use was limited to less than 1 hour per day for less than 5 times per month. Each patient was rated using the Persian-language version of the Beck Depression Inventory-II, and they all were distributed a self-administered questionnaire designed by the authors.

The study revealed a stark difference in mean (SD) depression scores between patients with MS who use social media and those who do not: 16.38 (8.3) vs 25 (13.98) (P = .046), respectively. There were also no significant differences between the type (r = 0.098; P = .513) and duration (r = —0.102; P = .564) of social media in relation to depression scores.

Results also revealed that interactive social networks, such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Short Message Services, or Telegram, can allow patients access to public health education by providing a medium for information sharing and online communities that offer social support.

Useful information provided in through social media reduces the need for patients to visit physician offices and hospitals, enabling them to communicate easily with their trusted physicians. Less trips to doctors’ offices also can save patients money they would spend on gas and for travel expenses, as well as time.

Social media can also provide a work around during sudden outbreaks of public health events, such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which has created huge challenges for health care systems.

“[The] recent experience of [the] COVID-19 pandemic indicated that the necessity of online interventions specially for mental health disorders is ineluctable. These interventions are becoming a trend in psychiatric therapies, particularly in patients with medical disabilities,” the researchers concluded. “It can be interpreted that being connected regardless of the means and ways of access to the internet can be advantageous for the patients.”

There should be ongoing evaluation of the best ways to use social media to reach patients with MS who have depression, especially in light of the current pandemic and for those with medical disabilities, because the authors caution interpretation of the results based on their use of just 1 method to score depression and the influence of cultural variables.

Reference

Farpour HR, Hoveidaei AH, Habibi L, Moosavi M, Farpour S. The impact of social media use on depression in multiple sclerosis patients. Acta Neuol Belg. Published online June 21, 2020. doi:10.1007/s13760-020-01407-1