John Hopkins computer scientists use Twitter to track mental illness trends

A tool that has helped track the flu may also be effective in tracking trends in common mental illnesses using Twitter posts, according to computer scientists at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Researchers say they may be able to gather new data quickly and inexpensively on post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder.

To gather data, computer algorithms review tweets from users who publicly mentioned their diagnosis. The algorithms also look for words and language cues associated with certain disorders, including language patterns linked to anxiety and insomnia.

The scholars predict analyzing Twitter posts could also become a useful way of measuring mental health trends quickly after traumatic occurrences like natural disasters and military conflicts, according to Mark Dredze, PhD, assistant research professor in computer science at the Johns Hopkins University and research scientist at the Human Language Technology Center of Excellence.

"Using Twitter to get a fix on mental health cases could be very helpful to health practitioners and governmental officials who need to decide where counseling and other care is needed most," said Dr. Dredze. "It could point to places where many veterans may be experiencing PTSD, for example, or to towns where people have been traumatized by a shooting spree or widespread tornado damage."


More articles on Twitter:
Why physicians struggle with Twitter
Educating your patients about a medical crisis using social media
Hospitals on Facebook, Twitter: 8 statistics on healthcare's social media use

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