The Aug. 19 editorial “Trauma and depression: It’s all in the tweets” described how researchers are mining social media posts for clues about mental illness, identifying signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder based on an analysis of tweets. I applaud these researchers for their creative approach to learning more about mental illness.
While studies have shown that people may confide more to a computer than to a health care professional, Twitter is certainly not a “quiet therapist,” as you describe it. Many of today’s conversations happen on social channels, but it is important not to base a diagnosis of mental illness on social media posts.
We certainly want to avoid anthropomorphosis by attributing healing capacity to a communications vehicle. At their best, social media are just one lens for us to examine how individuals are crying for help.
Human beings need to start a conversation about addressing depression and PTSD in our society, and social media can be an important part of this process. With a stronger voice, we can work to end the stigma that society associates with mental illness and show people that it is OK to talk about mental illness, online and offline.
As the world goes digital, we cannot forget the people behind these posts and the value of face-to-face interactions.