College can be tough on your mental health. And more and more, students are taking to social media to talk about it.
Between 2011 and 2016, conversations surrounding mental health in subreddits dedicated to the top schools in the country increased 16 percent, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, found.
This team of researchers looked at five years of Reddit data to identify mental health trends among college students, using the U.S. News and World Report’s top 150 colleges in the country as the test subjects.
The researchers followed the Reddit presences of the 109 top schools with active accounts on the platform, “(examining) the potential of social media as a new ‘barometer’ for quantifying the mental well-being of college” students, a dataset that’s sorely lacking, they wrote in their paper.
If you were itching to know how your school’s mental health stacked up, you’re out of luck. The researchers kept the names of the universities out of their report for privacy reasons.
But they did identify big trends. Across the five years of Reddit posts they read and analyzed, 3 percent of threads were about mental health. Using an algorithm, they scanned the posts for comments about things like depression, financial and academic anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Schools’ scores were based on the frequency of mental health-related threads and the quality of the conversations spurred by the comments.
The more often students were posting and the more involved the conversations were, the lower the school’s mental health score was.
Here are some standout trends:
– Students at higher-ranked schools have better mental health than those at lower-ranked schools.
– Students at more expensive schools have better mental health than those at less expensive schools.
– Students at large public schools with a majority female population have worse mental health.
– Posts about mental health increase as the academic year progresses, peaking in November and even more so in May and decreasing over the summer.
Students at more expensive schools post less about tuition anxiety, maybe because they tend to be more affluent and less worried about paying for school or going into debt, lead researcher Munmun De Choudhury of Georgia Tech said to the university.
A more diverse student body—usually present at large public schools—probably leads to more sharing of stress and anxiety, she said. The link to female students probably isn’t because women have more anxiety, but rather because women are more apt to share their emotions online and offline, as research has shown.
De Choudhury has done similar and very interesting research into how people talk about eating disorders on Instagram. She said the school mental health data might be used by the universities themselves to create policies that sync up with the particular needs of their student bodies.
While lots of students experience mental health issues during their college years—exacerbated by all-nighters and social stressors—very few of them get help.
“Only 18 percent of students with a past-year history of poor mental wellness are known to seek counseling, therapy or treatment,” the researchers wrote. “This arises due to a variety of barriers: limited health insurance coverage, paucity of knowledge about psychiatric services, social stigma, and lack of time.”
If you’re attending a university, you’re uniquely well-positioned to get mental health help. Most universities offer free counseling to students—take advantage of it while you can. Do a quick Google search and find out what resources are available to you.
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.