News Release

Mental health concerns on Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Health Data Science

The COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on mental health concerns on Twitter in the US, and certain groups of people, such as males and white, were more likely to express such concerns, according to a study from the University of Rochester.

“Mental health concerns have substantially increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in the US,” says co-author Dongmei Li, associate professor with the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Using Twitter data, we aimed to understand the mental health concerns in the US during the pandemic through identifying major topics discussed and examining the potential differences in demographic groups regarding mental health concerns through advanced deep learning algorithms.”

This study was published on February 17th, 2022, in Health Data Science, a science partner journal.

The investigators collected COVID-19 related tweets between Marth 5th, 2020, and January 31st, 2021. The eligible tweets were compared with the US daily COVID-19 case counts to reveal a potential correlation. Further, common topics among these tweets were identified and the demographic patterns, such as age, gender, race, and location, of the twitter users were elucidated using algorithms.

“We observed a positive correlation between the number of tweets mentioning mental health concerns and the number of COVID-19 cases in the US. Social distance, travel restrictions, and uncertainty about the length of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to be the major contributions to the mental health concerns during the pandemic in the US. All these indicated a significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health concerns in the US, and this impact is observed more in males and White Twitter users.” Li shared as she explained the research results.

In the US, the proportion of people using Twitter decreases as the age increases. However, the majority of people posting mental health-related tweets during the study period were middle-aged and senior people. In addition, among all age groups above 18 years, males were more likely to express mental health concerns except in the 18-29 age group. These results provide more details to the demographic profile of Twitter users having mental health concerns during the pandemic.

Prior works have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on the mental health of the public. What’s more, the volume of tweets on mental health had been relatively constant before it soared during the COVID-19 outbreak. This study went a step further as it has manifested a positive correlation between the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health concerns on Twitter in the US.

Interestingly, a grain of hope is present with a downward trend of the mental health-related tweets at the end of 2020 against high COVID-19 cases, which might indicate confidence associated with the success of vaccine development and vaccination program rollout.

“The next step is to put more effort into reassuring the confidence in the public about fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and providing more mental health support to the more vulnerable population.” Li comments as she looks into efforts in the next phase.

“With the development of effective COVID-19 vaccines and the increasing prevalence of vaccination in the US and globally, we hope the mental health concerns will be reduced in the US and other counties,” Li says. “Our ultimate goal is to inform the public about mental health concerns during the pandemic through social media data mining, which might help reduce the burden of mental health issues.”


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