• Angad Chowdhry

How Big Data can help break the mental health stigma

From the U.S. to Singapore, the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health. In 2020, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from one in ten adults in 2019. In Singapore, a suicide prevention organization received over 39,000 calls for help in 2020 - an 18% increase from the year before.

However, mental health services are overwhelmed and lacking in many countries. In 130 countries, about 60% of service providers reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72%), older adults (70%), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61%).

Quilt.AI has used its Cultural AI tool and search analysis to study mental health issues and needs across several countries. Our findings increasingly show us that mental health is a pressing concern during the pandemic. Awareness campaigns and services must reach people where they are - online. This includes redirecting people to local services or relevant online support groups, leveraging micro-influencers, and tailored services for migrant workers and women.

Learn more about our digital insights on mental health:

1. Mental health has reached a tipping point in India

We studied 200 search terms and 100 unique posts from public forums to gain an unfiltered lens at what people are searching for. There are 11 million searches yearly about depression and anxiety. Suicide is a rising concern with increased searches for information on methods, self-harm, and helpline. Every month, there are 267,000 help-seeking searches - a clear indication that people are seeking support, often through online resources, natural remedies, or self-help tips.

Despite these alarming statistics, we also saw that a younger segment of micro-influencers is challenging the stigma of mental health and raising awareness. They are increasingly speaking out online, sharing their own stories and experiences, creating resources to help others, and forming organizations and support groups.

2. People are looking for services and treatment in Singapore

In partnership with Quilt.AI, Daughters of Tomorrow used digital insights from 56,000 unique searches and 150 Twitter posts to understand - how has COVID-19 shaped online behaviors around mental health? What are some emerging issues?

We found that people are seeking services and treatment at a growing rate. Searches related to general information about mental health (e.g. symptoms of depression) made up the highest volume, followed by treatment (30%), and services (15%). Searches related to services and treatment have grown at 3.2% and 1%, showing a growing interest.

Read more about how mental health had a greater effect on women and what we can learn from service providers in Singapore.

3. Fear and distress manifest online in the U.K.

In the United Kingdom, mental health distress rose during the pandemic. Our analysis of 27 million profiles on Facebook and Twitter gave us crucial insights into how fear has manifested online in the U.K.

At the heart of our findings is that the pandemic has knocked away the main human coping mechanisms, such as faith in society and the self, putting a spotlight on overwhelming primal fears that usually lay hidden.

From examining social media posts, two dominant outlooks (optimistic and pessimistic) and two behaviors (active and passive) emerged. Plotted on a mathematical graph along the x and y axes, people broadly fell into four segments.

These ranged between characteristics of panic buying, seeking refuge in nature, and volunteerism. We also found that behaviors had a regional bias that translated to interesting consumer behaviors.

To learn more, read the rest of our findings here.

4. Migrant workers need urgent mental health care

Quilt.AI partnered with UN Women and UNFPA to understand how violence against women has impacted women in eight countries during COVID-19.

Quilt.AI examined conversations in 111 Facebook discussion groups, including 3600 social media posts. With input from the UN agencies, the Quilt.AI team also analyzed searches in migrant dense locations of three countries, to better understand the type of information migrants are seeking during the pandemic.

Mental health-related searches led at 78 percent, with violence at 17 percent and employment at 5 percent. Under mental health, help-seeking keywords, such as "therapist near me" and "coping with depression," popped up frequently. Under violence, 30 percent of searches are tied to domestic violence and physical abuse (30 percent physical violence; 20 percent sexual violence; 20 percent help-seeking).

Read our full report that covers South Asia and Southeast Asia here.

5. Mental health services at your fingertips

The mental health crisis is vast and powered by a lack of information and stigma. Quilt.AI’s study sheds light on how campaigns and e-counseling brands can overcome these barriers and effectively engage more people:

  • Dial-up content that explicitly speaks to the most pressing issues. Organizations can borrow from the language of help-seekers to engage more young people and address issues directly.

  • Break biases head-on. Campaigns and e-counseling brands are most successful when they break biases through self-compassion and myth-busting. Therefore, online content should focus on equipping individuals with the self-awareness to take their mental health seriously.

  • Searches are an entry for people seeking information and support related to suicide. This makes it a key intervention point. Searches suggesting suicidal ideation or intent should be directed to dedicated crisis helplines or avenues for help.

During such challenging and strange times, it is crucial to take a moment to reflect on your own health and well-being. Our team shares their most helpful mental health resources :

  • Headspace is a friendly, animated look at the benefits of meditation. It offers guided meditation videos and articles through books, Netflix series, and an app.

  • Head to Health has a ton of information and resources for anyone in mental stress. This includes a 24/7 lifeline support with people ready to listen or chat with you in times of crisis

  • 7 Cups offers emotional support through its 300,000 trained listeners and 180 therapists. They have already reached 25 million people.

These are a few of just many online resources. At Quilt.AI, we believe in using our data-driven approach to ensure that mental health advocacy, awareness, and services reach every person at their fingertips.

Write to [email protected] to learn more about our work.

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