Measuring attitudes towards mental health using social media: investigating stigma and trivialisation [2018]

There are numerous campaigns targeting mental health stigma. However, evaluating how effective these are in changing perceptions is complex. Social media may be used to assess stigma levels and highlight new trends. This study uses a social media platform, Twitter, to investigate stigmatising and trivialising attitudes across a range of mental and physical health conditions.

Tweets (i.e. messages) associated with five mental and five physical health conditions were collected in ten 72-h windows over a 50-day period using automated software. A random selection of tweets per condition was considered for the analyses. Tweets were categorised according to their topic and presence of stigmatising and trivialising attitudes. Qualitative thematic analysis was performed on all stigmatising and trivialising tweets.

A total of 1,059,258 tweets were collected, and from this sample 1300 tweets per condition were randomly selected for analysis. Overall, mental health conditions were found to be more stigmatised (12.9%) and trivialised (14.3%) compared to physical conditions (8.1 and 6.8%, respectively). Amongst mental health conditions the most stigmatised condition was schizophrenia (41%) while the most trivialised was obsessive compulsive disorder (33%).

Our findings show that mental health stigma is common on social media. Trivialisation is also common, suggesting that while society may be more open to discussing mental health problems, care should be taken to ensure this is done appropriately. This study further demonstrates the potential for social media to be used to measure the general public’s attitudes towards mental health conditions.

Patrick Robinson, Daniel Turk, Sagar Jilka, Matteo Cella
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, January 2019, Volume 54, Issue 1