Increasing interest of mass communication media and the general public in the distribution of tweets about mental diseases: observational study
Background: The contents of traditional communication media and new internet social media reflect the interests of society. However, certain barriers and a lack of attention towards mental disorders have been previously observed.
Objective: The objective of this study is to measure the relevance of influential American mainstream media outlets for the distribution of psychiatric information and the interest generated in these topics among their Twitter followers.
Methods: We investigated tweets generated about mental health conditions and diseases among 15 mainstream general communication media outlets in the United States of America between January 2007 and December 2016. Our study strategy focused on identifying several psychiatric terms of primary interest. The number of retweets generated from the selected tweets was also investigated. As a control, we examined tweets generated about the main causes of death in the United States of America, the main chronic neurological degenerative diseases, and HIV.
Results: In total, 13,119 tweets about mental health disorders sent by the American mainstream media outlets were analyzed. The results showed a heterogeneous distribution but preferential accumulation for a select number of conditions. Suicide and gender dysphoria accounted for half of the number of tweets sent. Variability in the number of tweets related to each control disease was also found (5998). The number of tweets sent regarding each different psychiatric or organic disease analyzed was significantly correlated with the number of retweets generated by followers (1,030,974 and 424,813 responses to mental health disorders and organic diseases, respectively). However, the probability of a tweet being retweeted differed significantly among the conditions and diseases analyzed. Furthermore, the retweeted to tweet ratio was significantly higher for psychiatric diseases than for the control diseases (odds ratio 1.11, CI 1.07-1.14; P < .001).
Conclusions: American mainstream media outlets and the general public demonstrate a preferential interest for psychiatric diseases on Twitter. The heterogeneous weights given by the media outlets analyzed to the different mental health disorders and conditions are reflected in the responses of Twitter followers.