January 09, 2015


I love Twitter. I use it every day for tracking all kinds of things like how late I can expect to be to work because of Metro busy my morning commute will be, what my favorite brands and celebrities are up to and what’s happening in the news. I also use Twitter to express myself and my emotions through pictures, song lyrics and various emojis ;). From the time I have spent on NAMI’s twitter account I can say that I frequently see many others doing the same.

There are more than 500,000,000 tweets sent every day and that number is increasing every day. We tweet when we are happy and share our accomplishments. Some of us ask whether we should dress up as Superman or Batman (but really know the right answer deep down). Some of us also tweet when we aren’t happy, when we’re afraid, alone or going through a hard time.

We know that people are sharing a lot of information on Twitter, so how can we sift through millions of tweets to see if people are asking for help?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. may have found a way. Computer scientists there have previously used Twitter posts to track flu cases and are optimistic that they can use the same techniques to track mental illness.

According to The Hub, where JHU publishes their research endeavors, they have mined tweets from users who either mention their diagnosis or display particular language cues linked with certain disorders to quickly collect rough data on posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder and others.

This technique can also be used to determine rates of mental illness in certain geographic areas. The examples they used included trends showing higher rates of PTSD found at military installations that frequently deployed and higher rates of depression in areas with high unemployment rates.

Researchers say their goal is to share this information with treatment providers and public health officials. Maybe eventually we can even use this information to predict trends and set up resources to ensure that care is available as soon as people need it and not after it’s too late.

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