Tag: Social Media

Networking the New Normal: Confronting Illness through Social Media

GUEST BLOGGER: Terri Beth Miller, PhD

This is not how you expected life to be. You’re run down. You’re hurting. You’re physically and emotionally drained. And it feels as though those closest to you are a million miles away, as though you’ve suddenly found yourself stranded on a desert island with no hope of rescue.

This is what it can feel like when you are confronting illness, when a diagnosis suddenly transports you to a new world you never wanted to visit, let alone permanently inhabit.

The truth is that illness, whether physical or psychological, chronic or acute, can be one of the most frightening, disorienting, and isolating experiences a person can face. And yet, if we live long enough, we will all confront this experience. After all, ain’t none of us getting out of this life alive.

But diagnosis doesn’t have to mean disaster. Our 21st century world offers resources once unimaginable to those seeking health information and support. Few are more potent than the vast social media networks available to connect people in the most far-flung corners of the globe with the simple click of a button.

This seemingly limitless connection can be an infinite comfort for those who are suffering from illness, allowing survivors to reach out to fellow survivors, who often can understand illness in a way that those who haven’t experienced it simply cannot. After all, family and friends may empathize. They certainly can provide a love and comfort that the virtual world cannot replace. But there is a special and necessary connection shared by those have felt the gnawing at the bones, the torment of the mind—by those who have the visceral, intimate experience of real, bloody, hand-to-hand combat with illness. This is the connection that social media can offer to those suffering from illness, a means to overcome the isolation that can cut as deeply as sickness itself.

In addition to the opportunity to connect with fellow survivors, social media is an exceptional outlet for sharing health information and resources, from exploring treatment options to connecting with care-providers. After all, an informed patient is an empowered patient. Because those who are suffering from ill health often feel a tremendous lack of control and a vast feeling of uncertainty for the future, this access to knowledge can restore the sense of self-determination and understanding that survivors knew before diagnosis. These resources can restore some normalcy, or at least something of a return of the survivor’s sense of self.

Nevertheless, extreme caution must be practiced. We are perhaps never more vulnerable than when we are battling illness, and unfortunately those who would prey on the hopes and fears of the desperate are legion. So while it is healthy—and, indeed, essential—to seek out all the knowledge and resources possible when battling illness, it is equally essential to be wary of promises that are simply too good to be true. Vet the company you keep and the treasures you store up in the virtual world just as you do in the physical one.  Avail yourself of the immense resources available to you online as you wage your battle with sickness. But do so from a position of strength and discernment. This is your body. This is your mind. This is your spirit and your life. Harness the best and highest powers of social media. There is tremendous solace, solidarity, and support to be found online for those battling illness, but only for those who use it wisely.

For more information on the most beneficial mental health online resources, please visit: https://openforest.net/4-best-mental-health-bloggers-period/

Terri Beth Miller completed a PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Virginia. She has taught writing and literature courses for more than a decade and is a regular contributor to the http://openforest.net mental health self-help portal. View her profile on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/drterribethmiller.

You are what you Tweet?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Are you someone who puts your mood, food, or physical activity on social media? If so, you may be helping researchers develop and test new ways of tracking health behaviors.

funny-food-house-quote-sweet

 

It is known that the places where we live, work, play, and learn positively and negatively influence our health. But due to the time and other resources necessary to gather and update information about neighborhood characteristics, there is a lack of information to really understand how characteristics influence our health or why those effects might differ across town or the U.S.

As an alternative, a group of researchers explored the usefulness of using geotagged tweets to generate neighborhood level information to characterize happiness, food, and physical activity. By linking tweets to census tract level information, investigators found correlations (relationships) between happiness, food, and physical activity information and health behaviors, chronic diseases, death, and self-rated health.

And although this wasn’t the intention of the study, you might be interested to know the top 5 most tweeted about foods and forms of physical activity in the 1% random sample of publicly available tweets from April 2015 – March 2016:

Foods

  1. Coffee
  2. Beer
  3. Pizza
  4. Starbucks
  5. IPA (beer)

Physical Activity

  1. Walk/walking
  2. Dance/dancing
  3. Running
  4. Workout
  5. Golf

Any chance your tweets over the last year included one of those words?

This study, like all others, has limitations, and it is important to remember this is a first look at the usefulness of geocoded Twitter information. Having said that, these results show promise that Twitter or other social media data could be a useful and cheaper, more efficient way to create neighborhood profiles. More information about our neighborhoods could provide insight about important targets for change to improve the health of our communities. Now that is something to #tweet about!

 

Resources:

Cara, E. Top 10 Food Tweets Reveal Diet and Physical Activity Patterns of Twitter Users. Medical Daily. October 16, 2016. http://www.medicaldaily.com/heres-top-10-tweeted-about-foods-and-what-they-mean-our-health-401413

Nguyen QC, Li D, Meng HW, Kath S, Nsoesie E, Li F, Wen M. Building a National Neighborhood Dataset From Geotagged Twitter Data for Indicators of Happiness, Diet, and Physical Activity. JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2016;2(2):e158. DOI: 10.2196/publichealth.5869. PMID: 27751984

Swipe Right, Save a Life

Currently, there are more than 120,000 people on the waiting list for an organ, with a new individual being added every 10 minutes. Additionally, 8,000 deaths occur every year in the U.S. because organs are not donated in time. But while an overwhelming 95 percent of Americans support organ donation, only half are actually registered as donors.

And if things weren’t bad enough, the current donor registry is a complete mess. When the system was setup in the 1960s, it made sense to have people register at the DMV because it was the only government building people passed through often. However, this has lead to each state having it’s own registry, all of which don’t communicate well with each another.

In an effort to solve these problems, a nonprofit group called Organize has teamed up with Tinder to develop an app that entices more people to register as donors. Just like users of popular dating app Tinder swipe right in an effort to find their perfect match – they can now can use this same concept to register to be organ donors- and potentially save someone’s life.

The organization is also leveraging social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to start conversations about the topic and create the first central organ donation registry. Organize believes that it’s not only important to legally register as a donor, but to publicly express your intent so your next of kin has piece of mind knowing they made the right decision. Social media platforms can provide just that, which is why Organize is capturing data from those who tweet or post about wanting to be a donor.

While we don’t know the implications of their efforts quite yet, we do know that what Organize is doing is definitely innovative, and has great potential to save many lives.

To learn more about the organization or how to register to be an organ donor, visit www.organize.org.

 

Women Share Stories to Warn Others of Skin Cancer Risk

Last year, 27-year-old Tawny Willoughby shared a graphic selfie showcasing her skin cancer scars on Facebook to warn others about the dangers of indoor tanning. The viral post received thousands of responses and illustrates the success of Willoughby sharing her story online.

Just last week, another woman, Judy Cloud, is now also sharing graphic selfies which also feature the resulting damage of her two-year battle with skin cancer.

While indoor tanning is a clear cause of both these women’s development of the most common cancer in the United States, not practicing basic sun safety can also contribute to the development of basal or squamous cell carcinoma, or even melanoma. In fact, in addition to indoor tanning, Cloud also admits to getting multiple bad sunburns as a child.

Both these women, who have suffered multiple surgeries and long recovery periods, are hoping that by sharing their stories, people will begin to take the warnings of skin cancer more seriously. I am also hopeful that more men and women who have similar stories will follow both Willoughby and Cloud’s lead. In the meantime, especially with spring break this week, remember to follow these simple sun safety tips:

  • Use sunscreen, and reapply every two hours in the sun.
  • Wear protective clothing and hats when out in the sun for long periods of time.
  • Reduce time in the sun by seeking shade every so often.
  • Wear sunglasses to also protect your eyes from UV rays.

GamerGate: a case study of internet harassment

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Photo Caption: Zoe Quinn, the original victim of GamerGate, is now an outspoken advocate for victims of internet harassment.

This post was written by Marjorie Margolis. Marjorie is Doctoral student in Health Behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health

****TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.****

On August 27, 2014, a feminist advocate for women in the tech industry received the following message via Twitter: “I’m going to go to your apartment at [redacted] and rape you.” This message was part of a larger controversy sweeping the gaming community. At the center of the controversy lay Zoe Quinn, a female game developer whose former boyfriend had explicitly blogged about his allegations of Ms. Quinn’s transgressions during their relationship. Over the next several months, Ms. Quinn and those who spoke in her defense were mercilessly bombarded with violent threats and insults. In a Washington Post article, Zoe Quinn describes how her accounts were hacked, her address and phone number posted online and death threats caused her to flee her house. This incident, dubbed “GamerGate” led to a heated debate about inclusion in the gaming community, internet safety, and freedom of speech.

Some assert that the central issue of GamerGate is an allegation that Ms. Quinn attempted to further her career through intimate relationships and that attempts to publicize these allegations were suppressed. Within social media discussions of GamerGate, arguments about ethics in journalism and whether and when to curtail free speech are interspersed with blatant insults branding Ms. Quinn as sexually promiscuous, manipulative, and lying. Some claim that while they do not condone threats toward Ms. Quinn, they feel that the more pressing issue is the ethics of how games are created and marketed.

This case illustrates a severe example of a disturbing trend on the Internet toward acceptance of violence. In youth, cyberbullying has been associated with increases in depression and suicidal ideation. As people increasingly rely on the internet to create and maintain social connections, understanding how to prevent and address violence that occurs in this channel is an imperative public health concern.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that many people gain valuable support and acceptance from online communities. An underlying thread in GamerGate discussions is the sense of companionship found in the gaming community. Given the strong ties within the gaming community, I find the dismissal of violence in favor of “more pressing issues” to be incredibly disappointing. By shifting the conversation away from the violence occurring in their community, they allow it to perpetuate. Compromising the safety of one member of a community threatens not only that person but the entire group. By turning a blind eye to threats and viscous insults, members of the gaming community not only fail to protect Zoe Quinn but fail to protect themselves.

Additional links:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2014/09/04/gamergate-a-closer-look-at-the-controversy-sweeping-video-games/#3f3209925448

http://fortune.com/2015/10/29/sxsw-gamergate-threats/

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Resolutions

The New Year is here and we all want to make 2016 our best year yet. This could mean many different things to different people. Some people want to live healthier or happier. Some want to accomplish something tangible, like bike across the country. Some want to finish what they’ve started, like getting that PhD. While others want to try something new, like photography. We all have hopes and aspirations for ourselves. The beginning of the year, a time to reset, always prompts us to make, and often remake, plans to achieve these goals. But why can’t we seem to follow through and attain these dreams?

Perhaps you need to think SMARTER and make a S.M.A.R.T. resolution this year. S.M.A.R.T. goals, or resolutions, are defined as specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time bound (the University of California at San Diego has created a worksheet to help you create your own and be sure to watch the video above). Often we fail to meet goals because they are vague, difficult to measure, unrealistic, abstract, and have no deadline. Because there are so many other obligations in life that are demanding our attention and effort, we push aside abstruse goals in favor of productivity and livelihood. However, if we establish specific actions to take that will help us achieve our larger dreams, we can prioritize time and energy better and hopefully get to where we want to be.

Using apps and social media can help you stay on track. Check out these suggestions from AppAdvice.

Happy New Year and good luck with your S.M.A.R.T. resolutions!

Wellness Wednesdays: The Importance of Body Image

In the past week, several ‘Instagram celebrities’ have shut down their accounts and opened up about some of the unpleasant ‘realities’ of social media. I have a great deal of respect for these young women, some of whom are walking away from sizable paychecks – it takes a lot of guts just to be honest in today’s image-obsessed world. I commend them for calling attention to the negative effects of social media, for the unrealistic expectations that it helps to promote and maintain for young men and women all over the world. Because social media isn’t ‘real life’ – and I think that many people have forgotten that.

 

I was never very comfortable with my body growing up – I was short, and pudgy, with chubby cheeks and nerdy round glasses. Once I started swimming competitively in middle school, my body image issues got even worse – the skimpy Speedo I wore for several hours each day didn’t exactly provide much  coverage to hide behind. My sister and I both participated in sports that emphasized aesthetics – she was a nationally-ranked gymnast for a number of years, until repeated injuries caused by relentless training forced her to leave the gym.

 

I kept swimming through my senior year of high school – since then, I can count the number of times I’ve been in a pool on one hand. But I kept up a strict exercise regimen throughout college – the picture at the top of this post was taken shortly after I graduated. I remember the sense of brutal satisfaction I took in manipulating my body, subverting it to my ‘will’ – I had an unhealthy relationship with food at the time, one that I’ve struggled with for much of my life.

 

It took meeting my wife, and my in-laws, to change some of those bad habits. In their culture, food meant family – and love. Refusing a meal was tantamount to a slap in the face; certainly not an option when one is trying to make a good impression.

 

Food is as commonly featured on social media as are scantily clad bodies – seemingly a contradiction, and certainly one that sends mixed messages to those still trying to find their place in a judgmental world. It took me a long time to find my place, and I’m grateful that I grew up without Facebook and Instagram to further fuel my own dissatisfaction. When I look in the mirror now, I try to embrace my ‘flaws’, instead of denying them. I remember that this is reality, unfiltered – and everything else is just a mirage.

Research Spotlight: Tom Linden, M.D.

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: TOM LINDEN, M.D.

Dr. Tom Linden, of the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), spoke with the Upstream writing team recently to share advice and provide guidance for writers who are new to the blog medium.

Linden, who has been awarded the title of Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Medical Journalism, teaches courses in medical and science journalism for undergraduate and graduate students at UNC and has been director of the Medical and Science Journalism Master’s Program for 18 years.

With an extensive background in both psychiatric medicine and broadcast journalism, Linden offers aspiring health communicators a unique perspective of translating complex academic health information into practical knowledge for the general public to understand and apply in their daily lives.

To do this, Linden encourages health communication bloggers to incorporate basic journalism skills into their writing. He says the most important thing for a writer—using any medium—is to be mindful of their audience. Having an idea of the community that’s reading the material provides a framework for writers to know what kind of stories their readers find interesting.

Linden suggests five tips for creating interesting blog posts. First, he encourages writers to find fascination value with their topic. In other words, “Is it inherently interesting?” If the answer is no, it is unlikely to be with other readers as well. Next, he suggests selecting a topic that has a large audience. Writers can do this by asking, “Is my topic popular among many people?” Increasing audience size increases readership and possible sharing using other social media sites.

Third, he encourages writers to be aware of the importance factor when considering a blog topic. “Something can still be important without being fascinating or drawing a large audience, and that’s okay,” says Linden.

Another factor to consider when using journal articles as a starting point is the reliability of results. For example, finding a published article that includes a small sample size might be worth blogging about because the validity of the article is in question. He encourages writers to be on the lookout for limitations within articles because readers will find the contrast interesting. Finally, he says for writers to ensure their posts are timely. If it’s being talked about in the main media, chances are it would make a newsworthy blog post.

Linden believes adopting these techniques will improve the quality of posts for reaching a wider audience, particularly within the health community.

Watching TV prods children to eat more

A newly published article in Journal of Consumer Psychology illustrates that “fat” cartoon characters may result in children eating more junk food. In order to address whether children exhibit behavioral priming effects from stereotype exposure, Margaret C. Campbell et al. conducted three experiments.

What is behavioral priming effect? It is an implicit memory effect in behavior. The exposure to one stimulus influences the subsequent behaviors. For behavioral priming among adults, considerable research has examined that the exposure to a stereotype leads to increase in stereotype-consistent behavior. For instance, adults ate more candy and cookies after seeing characters overweight.

In this new study, researchers aimed to study the existence of stereotype-consistent behavior among children after exposing children to a stereotype.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 2.24.59 PM

With the hypothesis that stereotype priming effects exist on children’s food consumption, this new study recruited 6-14-year old children and exposed them to either a normal weight or overweight cartoon character prime.  Children who were exposed to the rotund cartoon character took 3.8 candies on average, compared with 1.7 taken candies by children who saw the lean character.

What’s more interesting in this new study is the function of health knowledge among children. According to the findings from the study, children who were asked healthy habits before doing the test ate fewer cookies than those were asked healthy habits after the test.

Therefore, just like what Margaret C. Campbell said, parents can help children making food choices by reminding children of health knowledge.

Photo credit: http://langraph.com/products-page/opposites/opposites/

Humanity VS. Ebola

“You can’t hold your children the way you would in this situation.” “You can’t bury your relatives.”

2 months ago, Ebola was escalating and spread in a wide geographical area. This virus popped up in Nigeria, as a result, this disease aroused international concern. Although lots of NGOs and governments came to assist and to start helping people to address this disease, several opposites happened. Commercial advertisements frightened both people in Nigeria and people around the world. The health system collapsed, the school closed, the market did not function as it would be, the misinformation and misperceptions start even faster throughout the community. Most importantly, people who were exposed to the virus did not allowed to travel. Consequently, Nigeria did not receive the needed help instead it was being isolated.

It is true that we’ve never met this kind of scale in this situation before. Strategies used to address other diseases may not be effective to handle Ebola. However, what we can do is providing emotional and financial support to stand with those people who were exposed to the virus instead of isolating them.

Let’s fight, we will win this war.

photo credit from: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/our-work/medical-issues/ebola