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How Social Media Is Intersecting With Psychiatry

May 19, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO—Social media and psychiatry may seem like divergent topics, but a discussion at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting showed how often they are now intertwined.

Session presenter Diya Banerjee, MD, a PGY-4 resident at New York University (NYU), said she and colleague Nadejda Bespalova, MD, became interested in doing a literature review on the topic after seeing several social media-related issues crop up among their outpatients in the past 2 years.

“It’s a topic on which there isn’t a real consensus yet,” Dr. Banerjee said.

In her talk, she explored the challenges and opportunities mental health clinicians have when they post to or consume social media.

Diya Banerjee, MD, and Carol Ann Bernstein, MD
Diya Banerjee, MD (left), and Carol Ann Bernstein, MD

As a “producer” on social media, there are dangers of violating patient privacy and disclosing personal information or views that could influence the therapeutic relationship, she said. But it also provides the opportunity to educate the public, promote yourself, reach a broader audience, dispense accurate information, fight stigma, advocate for patients, and join societal conversations.

Social media “is happening whether you want it to or not,” Dr. Banerjee said. “You actually have the opportunity to present what you want to present in a helpful way.”

Consuming social media, particularly posts from patients, raises the question of what to do with the information you find, and how that can impact the therapeutic relationship, she reported. Also, information on social media is not verified or guaranteed to be accurate, and clinicians who act on incorrect information face high stakes.

Conversely, using social media allows for increased connections with peers, professional development opportunities sharing of resources, and the chance to join well- developed communities, Dr. Banerjee told the audience of more than 100 clinicians.

An emerging use of social media is to use artificial intelligence to screen for suicidality or substance abuse, she said, calling it a “very interesting, developing field,” but noting it could lead to the erosion of privacy and false positives.

Dr. Banerjee urged attendees to be cautious, consider privacy issues, and have good reasons for anything they disclose on social media. They should also assume anything posted online will be there permanently, ask themselves how they would feel if a patient saw a post, and separate their personal and professional lives online.

A discussion with attendees showed many of them have faced dilemmas involving patients and social media. Many questions centered on whether clinicians are obligated to look at social media posts of patients, and how they should react to them.

“This is going to be an evolving topic in the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as we learn more,” said session chair Carol Ann Bernstein, MD, program director and vice chair for education at NYU and a past president of the APA.

—Terri Airov


“Social media and psychiatry: challenges and opportunities.” Presented at: the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting; May 18, 2019; San Francisco, CA.

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