Mental health discussion on Twitter in the UK


Brilliant Noise has just completed a research piece about discussion of mental health online. We wanted to show how online ‘listening’ or ‘buzz monitoring’ could be used for sector insight. Starting with the broad topic of ‘mental health’, we gathered keywords about mental health and captured over two hundred thousand tweets in Brandwatch.

We looked at general discussion of “mental health” and looked for more specific things such as “anorexia” or “bipolar”. We also looked at what mental health organisations were saying, and what was being said to them. Once we’d gathered the mental health related tweets, we looked for other topics to see what volume they were being discussed in the context of mental health. For example homelessness, alcohol, money.

The full report can be found on Slideshare at the bottom of this blog post.

By studying tweets by people in the UK discussing mental health, we found that depression was the most discussed topic, followed by insomnia and anxiety. Interestingly, whilst insomnia was a very commonly discussed topic, it wasn’t discussed in high volume in conversations to, or from, mental health organisations.

Here’s an infographic we created to illustrate our findings:

Mental health on Twitter infographic.

What’s important to remember about this research is that just because one issue is being talked about more than another, this doesn’t necessarily correlate with the experiences of people living with that issue. Some issues may be easier or more acceptable in our society to talk about than others.

Other topics discussed alongside mental health

The research used data from December 2013 and as such Christmas was at the top  when we looked at topics discussed alongside mental health, followed by stress, alcohol and food. It would be interesting to repeat the study at a different time period to see if stress, alcohol and food are consistently common topics or if seasonality drove this. It would appear however, that in December, when people are talking about mental health, Christmas is highly relevant.

Gender

We found that while overall women discussed mental health more than men, men discussed schizophrenia more than women did. Topics with a particularly female author group were anxiety, eating disorders and panic.

The caveat with the gender stats is that gender has only been assigned where the name of the author is commonly known as a male or female name. For many tweets, gender was not assigned.

While most overall conversation was by women, when we looked at other topics being discussed alongside mental health such as homelessness, alcohol, autism and race, these were all discussed more by men. Abuse/assault, food and LGBTQ were discussed more by women.

Impact

Of the mental health organisations we monitored, @mindcharity had the most impact and tweeted the most. @ManchesterMind came second and @CharitySANE came third. ‘Impact’ was calculated by Brandwatch and considers the number of total tweets, the number of times each tweet is retweeted, and the number of followers involved.

<h2Conversation

Overwhelmingly, the most shared conversations were by accounts tweeting facts about mental health. In particular the account @Fact itself, and lots of others which retweeted it. These accounts tweet facts about many topics not just mental health, and they have huge followings. They do not do any engagement and are possibly run by bots.

How charities could use the findings

  • Charities can be reassured that their focus on depression reflects what people are talking about most.
  • They might decide to increase their discussion of issues such as insomnia, which were discussed more by others than by the charities themselves.
  • Regarding gender differences, charities might compare how the rate of discussion reflects or contradicts statistics of diagnosis, and consider what this means to sufferers.
  • Other charities might take note of the high volume and impact of tweeting by @mindcharity, and use this as a benchmark to aim for in their own tweeting strategy.
  • The popularity of mental health facts could influence content strategy.

This study reflects a snapshot in time, where the prevalence of some topics will be driven by seasonality and/or the news agenda, whilst others will be consistent. Repeating the study on an ongoing basis could shed more light on these patterns. Charities may want to consider how easily they can respond to current events to raise the profile of key issues at optimum times.

I hope the report is useful and sparks some thoughts about further online research possibilities. Please let us know what you think below. Many thanks to the individuals who emailed me with their suggestions via the E-Campaigning Forum email list while I was working on the report.

Mental health discussion on Twitter in the UK from Beth Granter