Referrals to two mental healthcare providers in London for patients requiring urgent help were significantly greater on days with a higher than average number of tweets discussing topics around mental health, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports. The study used data collected between January 2010 and December 2014 at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM) and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I).
Previous studies have shown that social media use, portrayal of mental illness in the media and public discussions around mental health may be associated with negative mental health outcomes. However, research thus far has primarily focused on high-profile events reported by the news media. Associations with mentions of mental health on social media have remained understudied.
Anna Kolliakou, Robert Stewart and colleagues compared the number of tweets containing keywords associated with two important health disorders - depression and schizophrenia - with recorded referrals for ‘crisis episodes’ to SLAM and C&I. Between January 2010 and December 2014, 48,691 and 32,689 crisis episodes were recorded by SLAM and C&I, respectively. On days with a higher than average number of tweets mentioning depression, schizophrenia or showing support for either illness, the authors observed 5-15% increases in the number of mental health-related crisis episodes referred to SLAM or C&I.
The authors suggest that further research is needed to determine the potential factors underlying these associations and whether social media platforms can be monitored by healthcare services to identify vulnerable groups and predict times of higher risk.
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