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April 30, 2024
by Elizabeth Pratt

Wording On Social Media Can Influence Views On Mental Health

April 30, 2024 23:00 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

The wording of social media posts and messages can be enough to influence how people feel about mental illness and mental health treatment.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that students in college felt more optimistic about the chances of successfully treating mental health issues after they read social media posts that showed a “growth mindset”.

“We found that when people viewed social media content about depression and anxiety from a growth mindset perspective (i.e., a perspective that emphasizes the possibility of change), rather than fixed mindset (i.e., a perspective that emphasizes consistency), they were more likely to endorse beliefs that depression and anxiety symptoms can be improved with effort and that there are things they can do themselves to improve their symptoms,” Whitney Whitted, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at The Ohio State University told Theravive.

“A growth mindset can be influential because people are likely to behave in ways that are consistent with their beliefs. So, if someone believes that they can do things to help their mental health, then they are more likely to find ways to improve their mental health, whether that is going to see a therapist, improving their daily routines, increasing social engagement, increasing physical activities, or increasing self-care in other ways. However, if people believe that there is nothing that can be done to improve their mental health, then they would be less likely to try. From a therapist’s perspective, we really need our clients to believe that their effort makes a difference.” 

The study involved 322 undergraduate students who were asked to view a series of of tweets on social media site X (formerly known as Twitter). Students were randomly assigned to see tweets regarding mental health that showed either a growth mindset, fixed mindset or a control group which didn’t have tweets regarding mental health at all. 

Those who were in the fixed mindset group saw tweets that suggested mental health was a fixed condition that could not change.

Those in the growth mindset group saw tweets that demonstrated that mental health is fluid and it is possible to take control of mental illness and recover.

Once the students had read the tweets, they then completed a survey that assessed their beliefs about how long anxiety and depression can last and whether it ever goes away. They were also asked about how effective treatments are for depression and anxiety and whether they believed people have control in recovering from mental illness.

The researchers found that those in the growth mindset group were more likely to say that anxiety and depression weren’t permanent conditions, and that people could take steps to help with their mental illness.

The study authors say this demonstrates that when it comes to social media, wording really does matter. 

“People are viewing social media every day, and quite often they are viewing it for several hours per day. This frequent exposure has the potential to shape beliefs and culture over time. If people are viewing messaging every day that mental illness is a permanent part of your identity, that message is likely being strengthened little by little over time,” Whitted said.

“This matters because when a particular type of message is reinforced over and over, the associated beliefs are likely to get stronger and can be harder to change. So it’s really important that the messaging promotes beliefs that people have agency over their lives and mental illness is not their entire identity. However, this lasting and cumulative impact is still an open question that we hope to investigate in future studies.” 

Shane Owens, PhD is a board certified psychologist. He says that when used correctly, social media can be valuable in mental health, even for mental health professionals. 

“Social media is a tool and, like any other tool, a lot depends on the user. In the right hands it can bring people together, spread health and happiness, and build communities. In the wrong hands, it spreads hate and misinformation. The healthy community-building voices need to be louder. It’s hard to convince mental health professionals to use social media because it operates counter to their tightly held, rule-based ethical principles. That’s really unfortunate, especially because we’re supposed to be experts in human communication. Applying a growth mindset to the issue of mental health and social media, professionals could see social media as a challenge that we can overcome if we’re willing to learn new skills and take appropriate risks,” he told Theravive.

The researchers hope to expand their work to examine the impact of social media on the mental health of users. 

Until then, they argue their work highlights the importance of choosing words carefully when using social media, particularly when speaking about mental health. 

“It may be important for social media mental health influencers to be intentional about the subtle messaging they are using in their posts, and for viewers to be aware of the ways in which messaging might influence how they think about their psychological health,” Whitted said. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

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