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The social side of mental health

Since we started monthly sessions with Sanctus (a start-up dedicated to increasing communication and transparency around mental health), we decided to find out how much conversation is already happening around mental health.

We found that mentions of mental health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, forums and news sources in the UK over the last year cumulatively reach 22.3 BILLION users. We can break this down further, determining which topics, in particular, reached the most people. We certainly aren’t ignorant of the constant discussion around social media and mental health, and the stats show that this sub-topic reached 570M people, whereas mental health in relation to work had less than half the reach at 280M. In terms of conditions, however, depression and anxiety were by far the most discussed on the whole, particularly on Instagram where the most used (relevant) hashtag was 'depression'.

Perhaps more interesting than the sheer volume of mentions and reach was the variety in the conversations, and who was involved in them, depending on the platform.

Twitter has the largest reach of mental health conversations

Last year there were over 7.7M tweets, reaching 16.9M people. 85% of the engagements with these mentions were retweets, explaining the significant reach and also indicating a passive engagement with the topic. The behaviour here implies that users are happy to share the content, but not necessarily add their own personal perspective or experience into the mix. A distinct difference from other platforms was that learning difficulties were the most discussed mental health topic on Twitter, with mentions of autism making up 6.4% of the total 7.7M.

Somewhat heartening is the drop-off in mentions at the end of the workday when people are traditionally with their families. This graph shows the influx of mentions during the working day over one week:

Who is talking about it?

Twitter is the most likely of the social platforms we analysed to have an even gender split, yet women made up 56% of users in the mental health conversation. We saw this slight skew towards females across most of the platform; this was in line with our expectations as women are usually more active at sharing on social.

Men do discuss mental health, but it seems that forums are the platform of choice. 74% of forum users who mention mental health are male, perhaps due to the anonymity of the platform. Forums like Reddit play a significant role in these conversations – across their mental health threads, there are over 827k active members.

Something for everyone?

What was really stark from our research was that there is no single way of discussing mental health – different platforms host different content for different audiences. As outlined, Twitter seems to be predominantly a platform for sharing in this conversation. Forums appeared to be the place for millennials to chat through mental health, while those aged 34-45 were the most interested in mental health on Facebook.

When you delve a little deeper, however, into the world of memes, the younger generation is present on Facebook. While we are unable to analyse interest in mental health meme pages on Facebook, previous research tells us that the audience for memes is mostly under 25. Furthermore, nearly every mental health hashtag on Instagram also had a dedicated meme-related hashtag too (e.g. 'depressionmemes').

Pair this with the knowledge that the most successful content within the mental health conversation is visual (dark humour memes, motivational quotes, etc) and you start to develop a better understanding of not only which platform people are on, but where they head once on it. Once again, the audience for visual content displayed a clear behavioural pattern of sharing; they passively engage rather than actively comment.

Ultimately if you want to discuss mental health on social, there’s a huge variety of conversations taking place with a diverse range of users to choose from. While many people choose to simply share content in order to be involved and show support, there’s certainly the opportunity for active involvement and social (especially forums) offer the benefit of anonymity for those who want it.


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