For the study, a team of researchers from the United Kingdom performed a search for all YouTube videos purporting to show footage of individuals exhibiting the signs and symptoms of acute schizophrenia. Eligible videos were independently rated by two consultant psychiatrists on two separate occasions for probable psychiatric diagnosis and psychopathological symptoms; the raters were also asked to answer the yes-or-no question “Considering the quality and content of this video, would you consider using it in a medical student teaching session as an illustration of the signs and symptoms of acute psychosis in schizophrenia?” Videos receiving a “yes” response by both independent raters were considered to have good educational utility.
Of the 4,200 videos assessed, 35 videos met the authors’ eligibility and adequacy criteria. Of these 35 videos, only 12 were considered to present accurate depictions of acute schizophrenia. Compared with cases with a diagnosis other than schizophrenia, schizophrenia cases had a significantly higher prevalence of persecutory delusions (83% versus 15%), inappropriate affect (75% versus 8%), and negative symptoms (83% versus 15%). Of all adequate cases, 16 (46%) were deemed by both raters to have good educational utility.
“Our main findings were that eligible videos were largely inaccurate, containing psychopathological features not specific to schizophrenia,” the researchers wrote. “These findings are important for psychiatrists, given that the Internet has a vast amount of medical information that is easily accessible to medical students.”
While the authors noted that the study did not investigate how YouTube videos may affect understanding of schizophrenia by students, they emphasized “Mental health professionals and medical schools should be aware of this source of inaccurate information when advising students and patients about sources of health information.”