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High volumes of mental health tweets associated with referrals of patients in crisis


Referrals of patients needing urgent mental health support were significantly higher on days with a higher than average volume of tweets discussing mental health, according to new research supported by NIHR’s Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, analysed data collected over a 5-year period between 2010 and 2014 at two healthcare providers in London: South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.

The researchers recorded the number of tweets containing keywords associated with depression and schizophrenia, and the number of recorded referrals for ‘crisis episodes’ to the two NHS Trusts. On days when the volume of mental health tweets was higher than usual, the referrals also increased by 5-15%.

The cause of the association isn’t clear, but the researchers suggest it’s likely that external events are driving higher numbers of mental- health-related tweets, and these events are also influencing individual people’s mental health and driving higher numbers of referrals.

Researchers studying social media and mental health suspect there is a relationship between public events relating to mental health and personal crises in people who are at risk - for example, previous studies in the area have looked at associations between suicide-related deaths of public figures and suicidal behaviour in the general population.

Further research on these effects is needed, but the authors of this latest study say that their results suggest it may be helpful to monitor social media platforms in order to identify high risk days when crisis referrals could be more likely - this could help to prepare staff and promote support for vulnerable people.

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