Social Media as a Mental Health Evaluation Tool

A Q&A with a UCIPT Postdoctoral Researcher

Last week you discussed the accuracy of social media to detect depression. Currently, the accuracy rate is approximately 70%. What kind of benchmarks are used? What is the gold standard you would hold social media against?

There are currently no standardized benchmarks for detecting depression using social media data. However, our aim is to be as accurate as possible using existing diagnostic tools. For example, the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) is frequently used to screen for depression. This questionnaire has a high degree of accuracy (88%) in correctly identifying someone with depression. For most medical screening tools, we want the accuracy to be above 80%.

What can parents of college students do to evaluate their own children’s social media accounts for signs of stress, anxiety, or depression? Is it more appropriate for them to respond online or offline?

I think this is an excellent question and more research needs to be done in this area. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released findings from a comprehensive study on the impacts of social media on teens and families. There are obvious red flags that parents or anybody should be noticing on social media, such as cyberbullying or suicidal thoughts. But there might be cases where children may not express any signs of psychological distress on social media. This is why I think it is important to talk to your children regularly offline. If you think they need help, it is important to refer them to a medical professional.

How are children currently educated about the effects of stress on their own health on Twitter? Is Twitter a place where they find valuable information already?

There are several online resources available that can help inform both children and parents about the effects of stress on health. There are some specific hashtags that can offer tips on stress coping such as #stress or #chatstress. Some mental health organizations also offer great tips and new research findings related to stress. However, it is always a good idea to speak with a counselor if you feel that you are having trouble coping with stress.

Is there a difference in stress on Twitter and Facebook among African-American and Latino students? How about Asian-American students?

There has been no study so far that evaluates difference in stress on social media use between individuals of different ethnicities. Nevertheless, we do know that there is a difference in stress level between ethnic groups based on previous research. For example, minorities (e.g., blacks, Hispanics, Asians) reported higher levels of stress than whites. However, socioeconomic status is a major contributing factor to stress level as well. I think this will be an interesting area of future research to explore.

Are there any Twitter influencers in the field of college student stress that we should follow? Thought leaders or students who are especially articulate on this subject with Twitter handles?

There are several health organizations on Twitter that address the issue of stress (e.g. @NIH_NCCIH, ‎@womenshealth, ‎@StanfordPain, @TeenHealthGov). As mentioned earlier, there are also several hashtags (e.g., #chatstress) that can be great resources for people wanting to find tips and/or information related to coping with stress. I think it can be helpful for college students to follow their local health organizations on social media so that they are informed about the health services offered. For example, at UCLA, students can find help related to stress coping and other psychological distress through student health organizations (e.g., @UCLAHealth, @UCLANAMI).

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