Social Media: An Opportunity for Psychiatrists

Social Media: An Opportunity for Psychiatrists

Holly Peek, MD, MPH on social media

Psychiatry residents and early-career psychiatrists were among the first to engage in social media while in their college dorm rooms. Facebook began in 2004 as an interactive directory for college students, to share photographs and basic information. Ten years later, the site now boasts over a billion users worldwide and can include anyone 13 years or older as well as businesses, organizations, celebrities, and political figures. Although Facebook was the first popular Web site of its kind, social media now encompasses various forms of media with popular sites such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Along with the exploding popularity of social media over the past decade came the potential pitfalls for many young adults entering graduate schools and their early careers. Personal pictures, posts, and information have become readily available on the Internet, prompting schools, training directors, and employers to screen applicants by searching for them online before offering an interview or a job. Furthermore, it is often even more concerning that a patient may stumble across information on personal social sites. Unfortunately, as the first generation of social media users have entered their early careers, a sense of fear has swept over the online communication scene, with many of these users disengaging altogether.

However, instead of viewing social media as a potential catalyst for a career downfall, it can be an extremely worthwhile career opportunity for psychiatrists. The current generation of residents and early-career psychiatrists have essentially been engaged in social media for longer than any other generation. This means they are more likely to know how to use the technology and are more accustomed to readily sharing their thoughts and ideas through this very public platform. Re-creating an online presence from personal to professional has several advantages.

Engaging in social media as a psychiatrist is important because our patients spend a significant amount of their time online, and this is where they receive their health information. The average Internet user in the US spends 32 hours a month online, with 22% of this time spent on social media sites.1 Furthermore, smartphone users average 24 minutes per day using social networking apps.1 While spending this time on the Internet, users are doing a lot more than casually socializing with their peers. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 72% of adult online users have searched the Internet for health-related information in the past year.2 A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers has also shown that one-third of social media consumers are using it for health-related issues.3This includes watching online videos, reading stories on a Web site or blog, signing up to receive alerts and e-mails, or joining a health-related group on a social networking site.4


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