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Monitoring Mental Health Through Social Media

In an increasingly digital world, parents can often feel confused by their children’s technology usage. The latest trends and popular apps can seem complicated and unnecessary to use, resulting in little or no supervision.

It is important, however, to monitor the technology intake and usage of kids and young adults. Their posts can give powerful insight into their mental health — so long as parents and loved ones understand what they’re trying to communicate.

Recently, kids and young adults on the popular video app TikTok have started using a code to alert others about their mental health (Mather, 2020). The phrase “I had pasta tonight” or “I told someone my favorite pasta recipe” can be used to tell others that they’re suffering from depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation. Other codes are used as well, such as “I finished my shampoo and conditioner at the same time.” These codes are used as a cry for help that can go unnoticed unless onlookers understand what they mean.

By keeping tabs on the social media of your children or loved ones, you can learn about their mental health and help them if they are struggling.

There are a few things you can do to monitor their social media usage:

  • Follow your loved one on social media — what are they posting, liking, commenting, and reposting?

  • Understand the apps they’re using, and explore their different features and capabilities.

  • If you don’t understand something they posted about, ask them what it means.

If someone you know is making worrisome posts about their mental health, there are additional steps you can take to help them. You can be proactive in helping your loved ones with their mental health by establishing a trusting relationship with them before struggles arise. Practice active listening, and have open and positive conversations about mental health. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you when things are going well, they probably won’t want to talk when things are going badly. With that being said, if you are worried about their social media usage or are worried that they are displaying suicidal tendencies, here are some tips for ways you can help them:

  • Know and understand the risks and warning signs of suicide. Common risk factors include the recent loss of a relationship, social isolation, substance abuse, feeling hopeless, and more. You can click here to read more about risk factors.

  • Ask them about it directly. Multiple studies have shown that asking about suicide is not going to increase their likelihood of attempting it (Dazzi et al., 2014). Be open and honest about your concerns, and offer your support.

  • Ask open-ended questions. Questions like “have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” are better than “you would never hurt yourself, right?”

  • Convey a message of hope — depression and anxiety are real, common, and treatable.

  • Seek professional help when necessary. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK


Dazzi, T., Gribble, R., Wessely, S., & Fear, N. (2014). Does asking about suicide and related behaviours induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence? 44(16), 3361–3363.

Mather, K. (2020, June 29). TikTokers are using the secret code 'I had pasta tonight' and it has nothing to do with dinner. Retrieved from


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