Analysis of Reddit posts show pandemic’s impact on mental health

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Machine learning-based analysis of the language used in over eight lakh posts on Reddit showed anxiety and suicide-risk levels in users increased as the first wave of the COVID-19 progressed.

In a study, a team of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University analysed posts from 15 subreddit groups on different mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder, along with a few groups on personal finance, fitness, and parenting.

The study titled ‘Natural Language Processing Reveals Vulnerable Mental Health Support Groups and Heightened Health Anxiety on Reddit During COVID-19: Observational Study’ was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in October.

“We found that there were these natural clusters that emerged related to suicidality and loneliness, and the amount of posts in these clusters more than doubled during the pandemic as compared to the same months of the preceding year, which is a grave concern,” Daniel Low, lead author on the study, said in a MIT release.

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The team assessed the frequency of words related to topics such as anxiety, death, isolation, and substance abuse using different natural language processing (NLP) algorithms, and were able to identify changes in the tone and content of language.

The researchers found that while people in most of the support groups started posting about COVID-19 in March, the group dedicated to health anxiety started much earlier, in January. However, as the pandemic progressed, the other mental health groups began to closely resemble the health anxiety group, the MIT release noted.

Further, the personal finance group showed the most negative change from January to April 2020, and significantly increased the use of words related to economic stress and negative sentiment, it added.

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According to the researchers, findings from the study could help psychiatrists, or potentially moderators of the Reddit forums that were studied, to better identify and help people whose mental health is suffering.

“We wanted to bring attention to the ways that many people are suffering during this time, in order to amplify and inform the allocation of resources to support them,” Laurie Rumker, one of the authors of the study, said.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 3:08:35 AM |

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