Mental Health Pandemic During the COVID-19 Outbreak: Social Media As a Window to Public Mental Health

Michelle Bak, Chungyi Chiu, Jessie Chin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intensified preventive measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as lockdown and social distancing, heavily increased the perception of social isolation (i.e., a discrepancy between one's social needs and the provisions of the social environment) among young adults. Social isolation is closely associated with situational loneliness (i.e., loneliness emerging from environmental change), a risk factor for depressive symptoms. Prior research suggested vulnerable young adults are likely to seek support from an online social platform such as Reddit, a perceived comfortable environment for lonely individuals to seek mental health help through anonymous communication with a broad social network. Therefore, this study aims to identify and analyze depression-related dialogues on loneliness subreddits during the COVID-19 outbreak, with the implications on depression-related infoveillance during the pandemic. Our study utilized logistic regression and topic modeling to classify and examine depression-related discussions on loneliness subreddits before and during the pandemic. Our results showed significant increases in the volume of depression-related discussions (i.e., topics related to mental health, social interaction, family, and emotion) where challenges were reported during the pandemic. We also found a switch in dominant topics emerging from depression-related discussions on loneliness subreddits, from dating (prepandemic) to online interaction and community (pandemic), suggesting the increased expressions or need of online social support during the pandemic. The current findings suggest the potential of social media to serve as a window for monitoring public mental health. Our future study will clinically validate the current approach, which has implications for designing a surveillance system during the crisis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-356
Number of pages11
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2023


  • COVID-19
  • depression
  • infoveillance
  • mental health
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Social Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Applied Psychology
  • Computer Science Applications


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