“The Lives of Two Hashtags” Takes on a Life of Its Own: Physical Illness Beats Out Mental

Posted on July 25, 2012 by



I love comments. Just when you start to think you’re exercising your mind, your researching capacity, and your typing abilities for nought, someone doesn’t just read your post–they care enough to actually share a response with you.

It’s so gratifying.

And sometimes the responses are really illuminating.

For example, earlier I put out a piece called “Lives of Two Hashtags: How Can Mental Illness Compete?“, comparing how many times the hashtag #mentalillness came up in contrast to #MileyCyrus.

It was a sad state of affairs, but. . .theartistryofthebipolarbrain (who has a blog well worth visiting) made an excellent point about the piece–it was a little short on, well, let’s say ‘proof.’

Wrote the blogger, “My only addition would be adding #bipolar, #schizophrenia, etc. might add more perspective.  Maybe?”

Maybe, indeed.

And maybe a choice like Miley Cyrus was a little silly.

So to check the point–that I believe mental illness gets some short shrift in society, including on social media–I ran the visual.ly software on: #bipolardisorder, #schizophrenia, and #anxietydisorder, and then compared those results to the lives of the hasthags #HIV and #Alzheimer’s.

There was a method to my madness.

The Global Burden of Disease report, 2004 update, put out by the World Health Organization, created a table of the prevalence of moderate and severe disability, both world-wide, and then for the Americas, for Africa, Europe, the Western Pacific. . .you get the idea.

Here is a list of five diseases, followed by the number of people affected by them in the world:

1. Unipolar depression: 151,200,000
2. HIV: 31,400,000
3. Alzheimer’s and other dementias: 24,200,000
4. Bipolar affective disorder: 29,500,000
5. Schizophrenia: 26,300,000

Here are these in illnesses, in descending order, in their ‘hashtag’ lives:

While HIV came in second for causes of disability, it came in far and away first in its Twitter existence:

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Alzheimer’s–fifth and last on our list–came in second in the Twitter popularity contest:

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These remaining illnesses, all mental health issues, could not compete in Twitter popularity with HIV and Alzheimer’s.

Although we have made great strides in opening up the topic of mental illness, clearly they are not great enough, as schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and bipolar can’t even compete in the Twitisphere with diseases that are considerably less common.

Schizophrenia, which affects millions fewer people worldwide than bipolar disorder, came in third place, ahead of its mood disorder cousin:

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And apparently bipolar disorder, which affects nearly 30 million people world-wide, couldn’t break 630 tweets this month.

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You may have noticed that we’re short one graphic.

#Unipolar depression, first of causes of disability in our list, did not exist as a hashtag at all on Twitter, and searches for the term #depression became quickly confused with talk of economic depression, a major topic of discussion right now, until the use of the word became meaningless.

This is all an incredibly graphically-heavy way of saying that mental illness remains a subject many are wary to discuss, even in the relative anonymity of the Twitter forum.

It behooves us all to think about what that says about our society, our use of social media, and our financial and power structures vis-a-vis illness.

Then maybe it behooves us all to add a few tweets of our own, hashtags in tow, to do our tiny part in evening out what is a staggering imbalance.

While certain mental illnesses impact more people, it is the physical illnesses that get more press and more play–and often financing.