Mental health referrals rise when celebrities discuss mental illness, study reveals

Talking about mental health on platforms such as Twitter may increase the likelihood of people reaching out for help, a landmark study has revealed.

The research, published by King’s College London, found that referrals to two major mental healthcare providers in London for patients requiring mental health support were “significantly greater” on days when mental health was being discussed in new media.

The new study compared the number of tweets containing keywords associated with depression and schizophrenia with recorded referrals to two London hospitals, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM) and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I).

It was revealed that on days with a higher than average number of tweets mentioning mental health keywords, there was a five to 15 per cent increase in the number of mental health-related crisis episodes referred to SLAM or C&I.

The researchers add that on these days, a prominent celebrity or social media influencer was likely opening up about their own mental health struggles.

Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr Anna Kolliakou said: “We’ve all been aware recently that social media use can have a negative impact on adolescents and older adults and our study took a further step to explore associations between conversations on social media related to mental health and those who may be sensitive to this material such as service users or other individuals experiencing mental health issues.

“Given the substantial association we found between an increase in proportions of relevant tweets and an increase in crisis episodes, there may be ground for developing an automatic system to monitor these fluctuations on Twitter. This could be beneficial in alerting healthcare professionals about potentially problematic conversations trending online. That way, advice from services could be informed much earlier than it normally would have resulting in more effective consultations with patients.”

The finding throws a spanner in the works for conflicting studies which warn that social media may be doing more harm than good to our mental wellbeing.

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