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Journal of Technology in Human Services


adolescence, depression, scoping review, social network, online therapy, young adults


Online social networking sites are ubiquitous and prevalently used by young people. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the potential for such sites to bring isolated people together to support their mental health. Virtual communications, however, are not without risks. Substantial knowledge exists on attendant risks and protections among the general population, but much less seems known about their effects among clinical populations. This scoping review mapped the novel knowledge and knowledge gaps related to online social networking experiences and perceptions of depressed young people, adolescents to emergent adults. It also explored moderators of their social networking supports versus harms. A broad search of published and gray research literature between 2010 and 2021 found seven intensive interview studies, three surveys and a brief prospective cohort. Their aggregate sample of 915 clinically depressed young people was most typically, outpatient adolescents in the USA. They also prevalently used online social networks, but their perceptions seemed more positive than those of their peers without a diagnosis of depression. In fact, their positive perceptions (60%; e.g., ease of access and communication with providers, support from positive peers) were nearly two-fold greater than their negative perceptions. (36%; e.g., self-denigrating comparisons with “friends,” cyberbullies). Tentatively suggested moderators of risks versus protections were found at the intersection of gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. However, given this relatively new field’s limits, these are probably best thought of as screened hypotheses for future full systematic review development and primary research testing. Clinical implications are discussed.