Use of the social media website Twitter is highly prevalent and has led to a plethora of online social and health-related data available for use by researchers. As such, researchers are increasingly using data from social media to retrieve and analyse 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.
This study aimed to explore the reasons why individuals discuss mental health on the social media website Twitter. The study is the first of its kind to implement a study-specific hashtag for research; therefore, we also examined how feasible it is to circulate and analyse a study-specific hashtag for mental health research.
Text mining methods using the Twitter Streaming Application Programming Interface (API) and Twitter Search API were used to collect and organise tweets from the hashtag #WhyWeTweetMH, circulated between September-November 2015. Tweets were analysed thematically to understand the key reasons for discussing mental health using the Twitter platform.
Four overarching themes were derived from the tweets collected: (i) sense of community; (ii) raising awareness and combatting stigma; (iii) safe space for expression; and (iv) coping and empowerment. In addition, 11 associated subthemes were also identified.
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.
Mental health, Twitter, social media, thematic analysis