Jacobs Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science

Identifying Depression and Suicide Displays on Twitter: Key Search Terms and Characteristics

Published on: 2014-08-22


Depression is a pervasive health issue, which often goes untreated. The social media website, Facebook, has been examined as a potential innovative tool to identify and engage individuals in treatment. Twitter, another social media website, has yet to be examined. The purpose of this study was to examine if and how depression and suicide references are being displayed on Twitter. Text analytics software, Discover Text, was used to collect public tweets using the search terms “depressed” and “depression” during one week in 2013. Within this sample, suicide-related terms were used to identify suicide-related tweets. A subsample of 1,000 “depression” and 324 suicide-related tweets were randomly selected for content analysis. The tweets were examined by three trained coders for categories of clinical relevance, tweet originality, format, and subject, and were examined using a validated depression symptom codebook. A total of 297,107 “depression” tweets (which icludes tweets identified with both search terms of “depressed” and “depression”) and 7,538 suicide-related tweets were collected over seven days. The suicide-related search terms yielding the most clinically relevant references to suicide ideation included: “suicide”, “kill myself”, and “want to die”. The “depression” tweets most commonly were comprised of unoriginal content (60.4%), personal experiences with depression (49.4%), and referenced depression in relation to the self (45.1%). The “suicide-related” tweets most commonly referenced original content, and similar to the “depression” tweets, most commonly referenced personal experiences and the self. Of the subsample of “depression” tweets that included original content and referenced the self, 60.4% referenced one or more symptoms of depression. In conclusion, references to depression and suicidality occur on Twitter. They are expressed in a personal manner, and can include depression symptoms. Healthcare providers should be aware that Twitter is a potential outlet for discussing depression and suicide disclosures. Future research should examine acceptability and feasibility of contacting these potentially at-risk individuals.


Depression; Major Depression; Suicide; Social Media Websites; Facebook; Twitter; Identification; Treatment; Innovation