August 2015

Discussions of Depression on Twitter?: A Content Analysis Study

by Megan Pumper, BA; Jeanne Pumper, BS; Ellen Selkie, MD, MPH; Jennifer Whitehill, PhD; and Megan Moreno, MD, MPH, MSEd

Depression is a deeply personal and traumatic illness. Social media sites provide an outlet where users can post whatever they want to public domain. Would they discuss personal issues like this? Megan’s purpose for this study was to “investigate if and how depression is being discussed on Twitter.” Depression is one of the leading untreated mental illnesses, especially common in the college population. Since many college students have an online presence on Twitter, a very common social media outlet, Megan and other members of SMAHRT considered that this venue may offer new means of identification of individuals at risk for depression. Tweets are public property searchable to anyone with an account. Using the search terms “depressed” and “depression,” 1000 randomly selected tweets from one week in 2013 were evaluated using a codebook based off the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 4th edition). What they found, was that depression was indeed “commonly referenced on Twitter and was often discussed in a personal manner. Symptoms commonly described in clinical visits were seen in tweets.” There is a lot more research that can be done, and it could examine the meaning of these tweets and whether or not they are representative of offline symptoms.

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