The researchers recruited 112 study participants between the ages of 15 and 35 years who had experienced first-episode psychosis within the past two years. Researchers interviewed the subjects using a questionnaire designed to explore their online activity during symptom emergence. Nine out of 10 reported using the internet and social media daily, and on average checked social media nine times daily, reported Michael L. Birnbaum, M.D., from the Department of Psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York and colleagues.
Birnbaum and colleagues noted that the consequences of untreated psychosis can be devastating, yet study participants reported waiting about nine months on average before disclosing their symptoms to anyone. “The internet and social media may prove to be critical resources for expediting help seeking and facilitating treatment initiation among prospective patients with first-episode psychosis,” they wrote. “These technologies provide opportunities to diminish barriers to accessing services by reaching individuals earlier in the course of treatments that meet their needs.”
The internet was the most widely used resource for participants seeking mental health information, and participants were most interested in understanding reasons for the changes they were experiencing, followed by how to manage symptoms. About three-quarters reported noticing changes in their social media habits when symptoms were emerging.
During their symptom emergence, participants reported first noticing preoccupations and delusions (76%), followed by changes in sleep patterns (55%). Stress was the most frequently reported perceived contributor to emerging symptoms (39%), followed by illicit drug or alcohol use (32%).
Three-quarters of participants said they were open to the possibility of receiving online mental health help or support via the internet. Online mental health tools “should be designed to facilitate a smooth transition to care once a prospective patient is ready to take that step,” the authors concluded. “Unfortunately, utilization and engagement with existing digital mental health tools are poor, and new and innovative solutions need to be explored.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Psychosocial Treatments Found Effective for Early Psychosis.”