Suicide-related Twitter content in response to a national mental health awareness campaign and the association between the campaign and suicide rates in Ontario
Cote, D., Williams, M., Zaheer, R., Niederkrotenthaler, T., Schaffer, A., & Sinyor, M.
Objective: Mental health awareness (MHA) campaigns have been shown to be successful in improving mental health literacy, decreasing stigma, and generating public discussion. However, there is a dearth of evidence regarding the effects of these campaigns on behavioral outcomes such as suicides. Therefore, the objective of this article is to characterize the association between the event and suicide in Canada’s most populous province and the content of suicide-related tweets referencing a Canadian MHA campaign (Bell Let’s Talk Day [BLTD]).
Methods: Suicide counts during the week of BTLD were compared to a control window (2011 to 2016) to test for associations between the BLTD event and suicide. Suicide tweets geolocated to Ontario, posted in 2016 with the BLTD hashtag were coded for specific putatively harmful and protective content.
Results: There was no associated change in suicide counts. Tweets (n = 3,763) mainly included content related to general comments about suicide death (68%) and suicide being a problem (42.8%) with little putatively helpful content such as stories of resilience (0.6%) and messages of hope (2.2%).
Conclusions: In Ontario, this national mental health media campaign was associated with a high volume of suicide-related tweets but not necessarily including content expected to diminish suicide rates. Campaigns like BLTD should strongly consider greater attention to suicide-related messaging that promotes help-seeking and resilience. This may help to further decrease stigmatization, and potentially, reduce suicide rates.