Mental Health Discourse on reddit: Self-Disclosure, Social Support, and Anonymity
Keywords:reddit, social media, mental health, social support, anonymity, disclosure, disinhibition
Social media is continually emerging as a platform of information exchange around health challenges. We study mental health discourse on the popular social media:reddit. Building on findings about health information seeking and sharing practices in online forums, and social media like Twitter, we address three research challenges. First, we present a characterization of self-disclosure inmental illness communities on reddit. We observe individuals discussing a variety of concerns ranging from the daily grind to specific queries about diagnosis and treatment. Second, we build a statistical model to examine the factors that drive social support on mental health reddit communities. We also develop language models to characterize mental health social support, which are observed to bear emotional, informational, instrumental, and prescriptive information. Finally, we study disinhibition in the light of the dissociative anonymity that reddit’s throwaway accounts provide. Apart from promoting open conversations,such anonymity surprisingly is found to gather feedback that is more involving and emotionally engaging. Our findings reveal, for the first time, the kind of unique information needs that a social media like reddit might be fulfilling when it comes to a stigmatic illness. They also expand our understanding of the role of the social web in behavioral therapy.