Social media data is clearly the largest, richest and most dynamic evidence base of human behaviour, bringing new opportunities to understand individuals, groups and society. Such data generated by social media platforms (in this case Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) can be used to support social research and analysis by providing indications of information seeking behaviour and public opinions. Social media platforms are therefore positioned to provide a variety of useful data sources in relation to the issue of Mental Health. This includes:

  • Indications of public reactions
  • Insight into public experiences
  • Ways of measuring overall public attention and/or awareness
  • Ways of measuring general social trends of importance
  • Insight into the sources of public opinion (where are people getting their information)

Social media may be defined as websites or other internet based services where the content being communicated is created by the people who use the service. Unlike, for example, a news website, where the content is created by a journalistic and editorial staff for mass consumption, on social media sites there is no clear cut separation between producer and consumer. Websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow essentially everyone to create the same kind of content, yet users seem to structure their interaction with social media sites in different ways.

Social media constitutes an arena where the issues of the day are frequently debated and where opinions can be formed on a wide range of topics. Through extracting and collecting the data from an advanced Twitter search and translating this information into an easily comprehensible spreadsheet certain trends, opinions and focal points became apparent within the issue of Mental Health. By searching the words Mental Health with an optional search based around stigma and/or society it was interesting to reveal both the negative and positive connotations surrounding Mental Health on social media.


By centralising my search to the hashtag#ItsOkayToTalk I was able to gain insight into varying human behaviours and public opinions in regards to this campaign. Seeing as most of us can’t spend more than 30 seconds without checking social media, it wasn’t hard to notice the streams of men from around the world posting pictures holding up the universal ‘okay’ hand gesture with the hashtag #ItsOkayToTalk. The posts are part of a social media movement, headed up by Irish Rugby Star Luke Ambler, who started the campaign to raise awareness for men’s mental illness and suicide, after his brother-in-law took his own life last year. There are a handful of factors that come in to play here, including stigma, embarrassment and shame, but the consensus among social media users is that it is crucial the hashtag#ItsOkayToTalk not be reduced to another viral social media campaign but that people actually engage in what the hashtag is trying to bring forward.

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By reviewing tweets from users who publicly mentioned their diagnosis and by looking for language cues linked to mental health, we are able to quickly and inexpensively collect new data on mental illnesses and/or disorders. Through focusing on the stigma surrounding mental health and how society can either contribute or reduce said stigma, a number of campaigns became apparent such as #ImNotAshamed, #EndTheStigma, #SickNotWeak and #CommitCampaign. These four trending hashtags all have the dignifying aim to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage those suffering to speak out and share there story.

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It is evident within the data collected and extracted through Twitter Archives and Data Pipelines that there is a plea for reduced stigma surrounding Mental Health. This plea comes from varying stakeholders concerned with the issue of Mental Health, be it friends or family, health professionals, teachers, government and those suffering themselves. Such campaigns and trends are generated, hyped up and discussed at length, yet this must be combined with intervention and preventative measures.

Although the above data sets contribute a valuable and unique source of information in relation to uncovering the dense issue of Mental Health, caution is needed when interpreting such data. The above social media data should be “benchmarked” against other data sources, such as the secondary research into journal entries and scholarly articles conducted in previous blog posts.

5 insights learnt from the above web scraping:

  1. Data scraping Social Media is extremely relevant and effective in gaining a richer, deeper and more dynamic understanding of human behaviours and public opinions
  2. Social media provides a unique opportunity to develop preventative and intervention measures in relation to the issue of mental health as such social media platforms can be used to reveal indications of public reactions, experiences, attention and awareness
  3. There are both negative and positive connotations on social media surrounding those suffering from mental illnesses and/or disorders
  4. Various mental health campaigns geared towards raising awareness, reducing stigma and encouraging conversation need to be transcended past the stage of a viral social media campaign to something of more substance
  5. Such data sets as the above need to be compared with and analysed against varying other methods of data collection both primary and secondary


Amy Lomax

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