Post 6: Scraping Reddit using ‘Police Mental Health’

As with the growing relevancy of my issue concerning the law enforcement and mental health, I decided to look to Reddit as my source for my findings. Reddit is social media platform that, according to its about page, “bridges communities and individuals with ideas, the latest digital trends, and breaking news…” It’s a website that takes the forum system to the next level, where users can create their own communities or ‘subreddits’ based on any topic of their choosing and have others engage or join in the community. Posts within these subreddits can range from text posts, images, or direct links to external sites that other users can comment and discuss on. The posts can also be ‘upvoted’ or ‘downvoted’ by users, allowing the highest of the posts reach the front page of Reddit or the subreddit.

I decided to use Reddit to scrape for data because I felt that with the individual communities aspect of the site, would allow me to find a plethora of different viewpoints from different communities on my subject that is not limited to 140 characters like in Twitter or tied to personal identity like Facebook. The sense of anonymity, coupled with a larger word limit and a degree of comfortability with like-minded users in each community, has great potential for interesting findings. Below is a flowchart (image 1) of my process in finding my results. I didn’t want to use keywords that would specifically find negative or positive results because I wanted to keep it very general, and allow for the site to provide me results based on what people were talking about right now.

Process Flowchart
My process flowchart in scraping Reddit for data (Mijares 2016)

As there were over thousands of results,  I decided to narrow my scope into the first three pages which contained a total of 72 posts, sorting them into the newest first. But before I delve into my results however, I’d like to discuss this interesting section I found at the bottom of the page. It displays how many posts that were found using my keywords in different communities. I was surprised to find that the number one subreddit for my search query was one for users to submit and share their own horror stories. The next subreddit was for a place to talk about and ask questions about your own relationship and, coming in right after that, is a support group for those who were raised by narcissistic parents.

While the top subreddit of horror stories was a complete surprise for me, it made me wonder why it became that way – is it because police and mental health are perfect topics to write horror stories about, or is it simply because the search engine found mentions of those words in the stories? Despite it might being the latter, as one who enjoys horror games and narratives, the genre is known to use the, “they used to suffer from an [insert mental illness]” back story trope for their characters (usually applied to the antagonist/s to explain the erratic behaviour); or they set their scenes in abandoned mental health asylums where ghosts of patients haunt every wall and object. You could say that this attributes to the stigma and it further perpetuates the negative assumptions to mental health; it paints those who have a mental illness or have been hospitalised in a mental health facility, in a fairly negative light. While this topic isn’t my specific focus on mental health, this finding produced an interesting insight into the how the users may perceive mental health in the internet space.

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The ‘narrow it down to a subreddit’ box located at the bottom of the results page (Reddit 2016)
Top 3 subreddits that contained posts with my keywords ‘Police Mental Health’. From left to right: /r/NoSleep, /r/Relationships, /r/RaisedByNarcissists (Reddit 2016)

Regarding my results to my data scraping exercise on the first three pages of my search query, I decided to tag each of the 72 posts with a description in order to tabulate these into the pie chart below. As expected, I found a whole array of posts that weren’t just opinion pieces on various topics related to mental health. The highest number of posts were those that shared direct links and excerpts of news articles relating to police and/or mental health.  Many of them spoke of a recent incident of a veteran who suicided in a parking lot of a Veterans Affairs medical hospital in Long Island, New York. Yet while these posts take the highest percentage, most of them don’t have any comments on them and are upvoted by one or two points. The second largest percentage however is taken by those seeking advice for someone else’s mental health. An example can be seen below where the user IAmBrownJesus, asks the community in the ‘Legal Advice’ subreddit for advice on how to deal with some issues in the hospitalisation of his father who suffers from schizophrenia. In general, a large chunk of the 72 posts were seeking advice, whether it be related to mental health or not. These posts had a lot more upvotes and engagement with their communities as well. The highest post in this category at this time of writing, is at 144 points, and is written by user ridl14 who details their narcissistic mother’s reactions towards their brother’s mental health incidents. A lot of the posts too involved incidents with the police ranging from negative tones of “being sick of them detaining me” to the more positive perspectives where they were a helpful ally.

The fact that advice posts take up most of percentage says a lot about the very nature of the internet space and mental health. While most of my previous research in my other blog posts were generally negative, with few in between being positive, users in these forum community spaces are quite open and comfortable in talking about their issues online and not with professionals outside the computer. These online communities are able to foster a sense of companionship with each other, each sharing similar experiences and/or beliefs in order to feel comfortable to seek valuable advice.

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My pie chart based on posts on the first three pages of the Reddit search results using the keywords ‘Police Mental Health’ (Mijares 2016)

In regards to using this data for future visual design responses, the large array of strong negative, positive and in between perspectives on my issue can prove to be interesting to show, especially if I increase my scope of data into a plethora of pages and sites. No matter how much viewers may know of my issue, they will be able to see on a spectrum in various contexts to what either the news outlets, blogs or individual users are saying about the issue and where they fall on the scale. They’ll be able to see where certain types of sites or communities fall on a spectrum of being more empathetic to the police or demanding justice for the mentally ill with zeal, or even which can do both. Another idea I had was finding common words used in article and post headings about my issue and then using those words to create word clouds whose size depends on word’s frequency of use. I say headings, because that’s usually what a reader reads first and what invites them to view the article or post. This means that authors of these posts are known to use ‘click-bait’ or generalised viewpoints to encourage the user to read it. I would hope that this would give insight for the viewer to see how media is able to manipulate perspectives of people, even more so those who don’t bother to read the actual article.

IAmBrownJesus 2016, [MI] Hospital refusing to treat mentally ill patient after transfer – Please Help!, Reddit, viewed 27 August 2016, <>.

Mijares, J. 2016, “‘Police Mental Health’ – Reddit Search Results (First 3 Pages)” Pie Chart, data visualisation, Sydney, Australia.

Mijares, J. 2016, Process Flowchart, data visualisation, Sydney, Australia.

ridl14 2016, My brother was sectioned yesterday; Nmum’s reactions, Reddit, viewed 27 August 2016, <>.

Reddit 2016, /r/nosleep, viewed 27 August 2016, <>.

Reddit 2016, /r/raisedbynarcisssists, viewed 27 August 2016, <>.

Reddit 2016, reddit, viewed  27 August 2016, <>.

Reddit 2016, /r/relationships, viewed 27 August 2016, <>.

Images (including the header image) included in this post were recorded by Jasmine Mijares (2016) of the Reddit site.