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Mining Social Media Provides Insight Into Mental Health and Treatment Outcomes

September 28, 2022 by Dan McCue
A gout patient receiving treatment. (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases photo)

DUBLIN, Ireland — Real-world evidence drawn from social media can provide treatment providers with enhanced insights into how a patient’s mental health will impact the management of chronic conditions such as gout, a new study says.

The research was funded and carried out by the Irish pharma company Horizon Therapeutics.

It was based on the premise that the ability to actively listen to and interpret the patient experience is vital to effectively address the needs of individuals within a particular community. 

Using a proprietary artificial intelligence analytics engine, researchers listened in on social media conversations on the  topic of gout to hear and report experiences directly from patients and their communities. 

Though it has been established that there is an association between mental health disorders and gout, the circumstances behind these associations are not yet fully understood.

This remains an unmet need in the gout community, the researchers said.

For the purposes of the study, researchers evaluated two social media sources: a private Facebook group, The Gout Support Group of America (12,992 members from 99 countries), which contained 8,500 posts/comments gathered in 2021; and a public subreddit (r/gout) that included 100,000 posts/comments from 9,416 members over more than 10 years (2011-2022).

Throughout the study, the AI platform leveraged a variety of natural language processing techniques to identify prevalent terms and concepts in conversations. 

The AI platform identified conversations with a high probability of discussing “mental health.”

In all, approximately 4% of statements from these large gout forums related to mental health, of which 38% were related to stress, 22% were related to depression, and 16% were related to anxiety. 

Next, conversations with a high probability of discussing “management” were extracted to identify prevalent topics for managing gout; roughly 25% of all statements remained. 

For these “high-management” conversations, both Facebook and Reddit groups revealed topics related to “urgent care” and “primary care.” Out of all “high-management” statements, 0.5% (approximately 1/200) mentioned “urgent care,”  and 0.6% (approximately 1/150) mentioned primary care. 

Emotional affect was contrasted between urgent care and primary care conversations. The results showed that primary care statements were more positive, with a positive-to-negative word ratio of 2.5:1 vs 1:2 in urgent care statements. 

Further, the most common emotional effect identified in primary care conversations was “trust” (6% of all words), whereas “fear” was the most frequent effect in “urgent care” (11% of all words).

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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