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#WhyWeTweetMH: Understanding Why People Use Twitter to Discuss Mental Health Problems

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

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Article numbere107
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>5/04/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number4
Volume19
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Background: Use of the social media website Twitter is highly prevalent and has led to a plethora of Web-based social and health-related data available for use by researchers. As such, researchers are increasingly using data from social media to retrieve and analyze mental health-related content. However, there is limited evidence regarding why people use this emerging platform to discuss mental health problems in the first place.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to explore the reasons why individuals discuss mental health on the social media website Twitter. The study was the first of its kind to implement a study-specific hashtag for research; therefore, we also examined how feasible it was to circulate and analyze a study-specific hashtag for mental health research.

Methods: Text mining methods using the Twitter Streaming Application Programming Interface (API) and Twitter Search API were used to collect and organize tweets from the hashtag #WhyWeTweetMH, circulated between September 2015 and November 2015. Tweets were analyzed thematically to understand the key reasons for discussing mental health using the Twitter platform.

Results: Four overarching themes were derived from the 132 tweets collected: (1) sense of community; (2) raising awareness and combatting stigma; (3) safe space for expression; and (4) coping and empowerment. In addition, 11 associated subthemes were also identified.

Conclusions: The themes derived from the content of the tweets highlight the perceived therapeutic benefits of Twitter through the provision of support and information and the potential for self-management strategies. The ability to use Twitter to combat stigma and raise awareness of mental health problems indicates the societal benefits that can be facilitated via the platform. The number of tweets and themes identified demonstrates the feasibility of implementing study-specific hashtags to explore research questions in the field of mental health and can be used as a basis for other health-related research.