We feel: tracking the mental health of the nation

We’ve developed a tool called ‘We Feel’ to see if social media can accurately map our emotions and help us better understand mental health.

The Challenge

Gathering data on mental health

Checking in on the mental health of the nation. © iStock

About one in five Australians will experience mental illness this year. Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

Currently, research and potentially life-saving public health programs are based on statistics that may be five years old and snapshots of a particular time and place.

Yet, on the social media platform Twitter, around 6 000 tweets go out every second, offering a large and fast sample of information that could tell us how people across the world are feeling in order to better understand our mental health.

That's because even though people talk about a lot of things on Twitter, mostly they talk about themselves.

Our Response

Mapping emotions on social media

With the support of Amazon Web Services, we have developed an online web tool called 'We Feel' for The Black Dog Institute that aims to verify whether social media can accurately map our emotions.

We Feel passively analyses a ‘massive pipe’ of tweets – that is up to 32 000 tweets per minute on average or around 27 million tweets per day.

It uses language-processing techniques to look at the English words people use in these posts and then maps these words to a hierarchy or ‘wheel of emotions’.

We Feel allows you to explore emotions visually across a minute by minute time scale which extends back days or several weeks. Users can also explore emotions across locations around the globe and select other search criteria such as gender to further refine the results.

The tool will also help understand questions such as how strongly our emotions depend on social, economic and environmental factors such as the weather, time of day, day of the week, news of a major disaster or a downturn in the economy.

Screen shot from We Feel, showing the number of tweets about fear in a 24 hour period.

The Results

Real-time tracking

Having access to real-time data is of enormous benefit to mental health researchers.

This new information from We Feel will be compared to existing literature to see how social media can be used to contribute to the real-time tracking of mental health in Australia.

This project has provided a prototype tool to support Black Dog Institute researchers to gather evidence on the role of social media in the development of more effective public health campaigns as well as the evaluation of existing campaigns.

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