According to research, social media might have a harmful impact on people’s mental health. Can it, however, influence people’s attitudes toward mental health treatment?
Yes, according to Union researchers. Researchers revealed that watching only a few social media posts that criticize mental health treatment can have a major impact on certain people’s views toward treatment in one of the first studies to evaluate the impact of social media on people’s perceptions of mental health care.
The study was published in the most recent edition of the journal Social Media + Society.
For the study, 186 people watched 10 tweets. The gender split was 67 percent male and 32 percent female. Five of the tweets denigrated mental-health care for half of the participants (e.g., “My friend is feeling sad again today. It isn’t depression or bipolar disorder; they aren’t real. QUIT WHINING”) The other participants looked at tweets that had nothing to do with mental health care.
The participants were then polled on their treatment preferences. The disparaging posts had little effect on either male or female participants who held traditional notions about gender roles and femininity. The negative posts, on the other hand, had an impact on women who did not share such traditional ideals of femininity. They reported increased stigma associated with mental-health treatment.
The research shows that even exposure to brief social media posts that derogate mental health treatment can have large impacts on what people think about mental-health treatment, at least among a subset of the population.”
George Bizer, Professor of Psychology
He was the study’s co-author, along with Sarah Competiello ’21 and Catherine Walker, associate professor of psychology.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 51.5 million adults in the United States suffered from a mental health issue in 2019. Less than half, or 23 million, received professional psychological assistance. The stigma associated with mental health is one of the issues that may hinder people from getting help.
Previous study has found a link between high levels of mental health stigma and negative attitudes toward seeking treatment. However, little study has been conducted to determine the extent to which social media content may play a role in promoting negative attitudes about mental health treatment.
Bizer said researchers were surprised to learn that women who don’t hold traditional views of gender roles toward femininity viewed the derogatory posts differently.
“This was the most interesting part of the study,” Bizer said. “We’re not sure why, but the results suggest that men might be generally less malleable in terms of their attitudes toward mental health treatment, and that women who do hold traditional views might generally be comfortable seeking assistance, and these views may have shielded people from the negative posts. But this is all speculation at this point.”
Ultimately, Bizer said, “the study provides additional insight into how social media can impact us and how people may be impacted differently as a function of their gender and personality.”
For more information:
Competiello, S. K., et al. (2023) The Power of Social Media: Stigmatizing Content Affects Perceptions of Mental Health Care. Social Media + Society. doi.org/10.1177/20563051231207847.
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