Researchers turning to social media to study mental health concerns during the pandemic
LONDON, ONT. -- What could be viewed as a simple tweet, can actually help paint a picture of how people are feeling when it comes to their mental health during this pandemic.
“I think mental health shapes every part of our lives and also it affects different people in different ways,” says Dr. Alona Fyshe, assistant professor at the University of Alberta. “So one person may find things easy to brush things off and another person may find it more difficult.”
The research team says stats have been showing that mental health concerns are on the rise, however they wanted to find out exactly what the issues have been for those who are struggling.
“We want to see, are those topics and the folks discussing those topics, are they saying anything about what they are feeling and what their mental health is like?” says Dr. Daniel Lizotte from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Researchers are using artificial intelligence to pull around a million tweets that are related to keywords and phrases that surround mental health.
“With artificial intelligence we can do something a little more complex and we can look for groups of words that mean similar things. That allows to see not just depressed or sad, but moody or down, and understand that those words used in particular context can mean depressed or sad,” says Fyshe
Once all the data is collected, again with the use of AI, those tweets will be categorized so that researchers can hone in on exact issues that are causing mental distress.
“What I like about this approach is it’s one way of letting the folks who are on social media to tell their own stories and bring those stories to people,” says Lizotte.
The hopes are by being able to identify key areas of concern through this study, Fyshe says, that information can then be passed along to, and used by, health care professionals and policy-makers.
“What we want to do is surface the information to people who are experts and can provide the supports that’s necessary for these moods and changes in culture during these trying times.”