Highs & Lows: Substance Use and Mental Health on Twitter




Assistant Professor of Nursing Director, Health Equity & Media Lab

Project Summary

My research experience through PURM was an enriching time in not only learning about the field of study my research was in, but also in learning about the research process, specifically regarding the process of community-based research. I had the privilege of working in the Health and Equity Media Lab, under the mentorship of Dr. Robin Stevens, on a project to determine if there were any relationships between tweets about substance use (drugs and alcohol) and mental health issues, such as depression, anger, etc…on Twitter. Of the thousands of tweets collected, my team’s objective was to quantitatively and qualitatively analyze a sample of the tweets received. I and two other students coded a randomized sample of hundreds of tweets for over forty drug words. We then chose nineteen drug words that had the greatest frequency of having drug related tweets and qualitatively analyzed the tweets to determine what themes each tweet could be categorized into. From this data, we were able to compare how certain drug words or types of drugs were talked about on social media, their contribution to online drug culture, and whether these findings were also associated with any mental health words and behaviors.

From this experience, I have become more skilled in quantitative and qualitative analysis, and I have a greater understanding of how data and research findings can be used to improve community health. By working on my individual project and by learning from others in my lab, I have furthered my knowledge of the health disparities that adversely affect certain minority populations over others. Specifically, I have learned how Black and Latino groups are at greater risk for unsafe sexual behaviors and STIs, and they are more likely to be impacted by the drug and sexual culture on social media. All of these findings are significant in trying to create interventions that address these issues in the community. Thus, I have gained insight about how public health research is most effective when it is rooted in the community the research targets, and this is achieved by connecting and discussing research with the targeted community. This understanding of relationship building is not only applicable in community-based research, but also in my nursing educational experiences, where good communication with all types of people is vital. Overall, my research experience has taught me many analytical skills and has furthered my understanding of community-based research. I will be continuing my research with my mentor, Dr. Stevens, and I am excited to see how this project continues to develop.