Social Media: An Opportunity for Psychiatrists

Psychiatric TimesVol 31 No 8
Volume 31
Issue 8

It is essential that we psychiatrists align ourselves with the public and our patients both to disseminate accurate information and to educate. Social media allows us to have this public voice more than ever before.

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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

More than traditional Web sites, social media has changed the landscape of how psychiatrists can make use of the Internet. It has unlocked doors for open conversations among physicians, patients, and the general public. We have the ability to disseminate knowledge of evidence-based strategies, provide context to mental health stories in the media, and dispel myths. There are certainly people who are putting false, misleading, and potentially harmful information on the Internet. Therefore we, as mental health professionals, should use social media in a beneficial way by sharing our expertise and knowledge in the field.

Arguably, there is more stigma associated with psychiatric disorders than with any other health problems; this affects patients’ mental health outcomes and, on a larger scale, funding and resources available to us and our patients. Social media is our opportunity to give voice to the fight against stigma by educating the public about mental health.

No discussion about social media is complete without talking about maintaining professionalism online. Because social media use for physicians is a relatively new and evolving phenomenon, professional organizations such as the AMA are now creating guidelines for appropriate use. It is essential for any physician using social media to review these guidelines: Opinion 9.124-Professionalism in the Use of Social Media.5 By following them, any trepidation about entering the social media scene can be alleviated.

Instead of avoiding social media altogether, I encourage mental health professionals to embrace this new and exponentially growing mode of communication. It is essential that we align ourselves with the public and our patients both to disseminate accurate information and to educate. Social media allows us to have this public voice more than ever before. Psychiatry residents and early-career psychiatrists certainly have an advantage in this arena in that many have been using social media for the past decade. However, digital media is not just for younger psychiatrists; medical professionals of all ages are now embracing the social media world. Learning how to use digital tools to teach patients, engage the public, and ultimately advocate for mental health is a skill worth adding to our professional repertoire.

This article was originally posted on 7/9/2014 and has since been updated.


Dr Peek is a psychiatry resident at Tulane University School of Medicine, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, New Orleans. Her Web site is and Twitter handle, @psychgumbo. She is the Digital Media in Psychiatry Section Editor for Psychiatric Times and the Media Editor for the American Journal of Psychiatry Residents Journal.


1. Bennet S. How do people spend their time online? [INFOGRAPHIC]. AllTwitter (Mediabistro). May 7, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2014.

2. Fox S, Duggan M. Health online 2013. Pew Research Internet Project. January 15, 2013. Accessed June 10, 2014.

3. Social media “likes” healthcare: from marketing to social business. PwC Health Industries. 2013. Accessed June 20, 2014.

4. Fox S, Jones S. The social life of health information. A shifting landscape. Pew Research Internet Project. June 11, 2009. Accessed June 20, 2014.

5. American Medical Association. Opinion 9.124-Professionalism in the use of social media. Accessed June 23, 2014.

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