Tag: Social Media

What Do You Meme? How Memes Can Be Used to Affect Health Behavior Change

By Trevor Bell

In today’s world, memes rule supreme, particularly for teens and young adults. Whether it’s Barack Obama’s portrait, crying Michael Jordan, or dogs, memes have the ability to make light of almost any situation. But, what if memes can help those affected by illnesses? In a qualitative study looking at how Instagram could be used to portray type 1 diabetes (T1D)1, humor – in particular the use of memes – was shown to be a simple way in which teens with T1D were able to both have more positive attitudes and inform the general public about T1D.

In the study, participants used pre-existing T1D memes or created memes themselves and shared these on their personal pages. The authors suggested that humor could be an important point of potential interventions for health behavior changes, and that, “Humor seemed to be a prominent coping strategy and could be used to address the negative feelings that often emerge in adolescents with T1D” (p. 1380). In the context of eHealth, perhaps healthcare providers should take notice of how society deals with issues. For example, eHealth interventions could encourage patients to post memes on their own social media accounts or to a specified website/forum. This is obviously no substitute for clinical care, but it could be a unique way in which we improve the outlook of those affected by chronic illness while also spreading information to the general public. The possibilities are endless, if you know what I meme.


1Yi-Frazier, J. P., Cochrane, K., Mitrovich, C., Pascual, M., Buscaino, E., Eaton, L., … Malik, F. (2015). Using Instagram as a Modified Application of Photovoice for Storytelling and Sharing in Adolescents With Type 1 Diabetes. Qualitative Health Research25(10), 1372–1382. http://doi.org/10.1177/1049732315583282

Celebrities, Social Media, and Mental Illness

By Jacob Rohde

Earlier this month, Selena Gomez opened up to Harper’s Bazaar magazine about her struggles with mental illness [1]. When asked about her upcoming plans for the new year, Gomez responded:

“I will always start with my health and my wellbeing. I’ve had a lot of issues with depression and anxiety, and I’ve been very vocal about it, but it’s not something I feel I’ll ever overcome… I think it’s a battle I’m gonna have to face for the rest of my life…”

Gomez is joined by several other celebrities, from Gina Rodriguez to Kid Cudi, who have spoken out about the realities of their mental illnesses and have used social media to publicly vocalize their related experiences [2]. For example, Gomez recently used Instagram to talk about her lupus diagnosis, which she has linked to her depression and anxiety [3]. All too often, celebrities are viewed as immune to such circumstances when, in reality, they share many of our own battles with mental illness. Social media allows celebrities, like Gomez, to connect with their audiences who may also struggle from mental illness, or to those who do not fully understand the complexity of mental illness symptoms.

Fifty percent of Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime [4], yet public perceptions about mental illness remain highly stigmatized, especially among young adults and college students [5]. In my own experiences, I have witnessed several students express their reluctance to seek mental health services as to avoid being “outed” by peers and stereotyped.

Efforts to reduce mental illness stigma can benefit from the stories and experiences shared by celebrities through their social media accounts. Indeed, a recent study found that college students exposed to celebrity narratives about mental disorders were far less likely to stigmatize mental illness overall and had fewer negative perceptions about those who seek help for mental illness than students in control conditions [6]. Given this, celebrity use of social media as a platform to talk about mental illness may have a positive effect on how the public perceives mental illness.

Of course, I am not advocating for celebrities to share deeply personal experiences. However, if they choose to address certain issues pertaining to their mental health, it may serve to reduce the taboo culture currently surrounding depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. At minimum, doing so shows that celebrities, like Gomez, are not so different than ourselves.

Mental illness is a serious concern. If you are struggling, please seek professional help or reach out to the 24/7 suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255

If you are a UNC student, free support is available through the Counseling and Psychological Services program (CAPS). Information available here: https://caps.unc.edu/


  1. Langford, K. (2018). Selena Gomez’s Wild Ride. Harper’s Bazaar. Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a15895669/selena-gomez-intervi ew/
  2. Yang, L. (2017). 23 celebrities who have opened up about their struggles with mental illness. Retrieved from http://www.thisisinsider.com/celebrities-depression-anxiety-mental-health-awaren ess-2017-11#cara-delevingne-struggled-with-depression-as-a-teenager-8
  3. Chiu, M. (2016). Selena gomez taking time off after dealing with ‘anxiety, panic attacks and depression’ due to her lupus diagnosis. People Magazine. Retrieved from http://people.com/celebrity/selena-gomez-taking-a-break-after-lupus-complication s/
  4. Kessler, R. C., Angermeyer, M., Anthony, J. C., De Graaf, R. O. N., Demyttenaere, K., Gasquet, I., … & Kawakami, N. (2007). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of mental disorders in the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative. World Psychiatry, 6(3), 168.
  5. Eisenberg, D., Downs, M. F., Golberstein, E., & Zivin, K. (2009). Stigma and help seeking for mental health among college students. Medical Care Research and Review, 66(5), 522-541.
  6. Ferrari, A. (2016). Using celebrities in abnormal psychology as teaching tools to decrease stigma and increase help seeking. Teaching of Psychology, 43(4), 329-333.

Social Media & Hurricane Harvey

As Hurricane Harvey continues to do damage in Texas, social media demonstrates its strong and rather novel role in times of crisis. The National Weather Service, the Coast Guard, and Houston Police have all taken to Twitter to disseminate emergency safety information. And those in need of help have been tweeting back—providing their locations and pleading for rescue. With emergency help lines overwhelmed and often ringing busy for hours, taking to Twitter or connecting through a Facebook group like “Hurricane Harvey Helping Hands” may feel like the strongest action available to self-advocate and ask for help from both official channels and private.

In comparing the communication during Hurricane Harvey to past large-scale storms such as Katrina, the utilization of social media to connect and pinpoint location stands out in my mind as a promising and potentially life-saving advancement.

From here in North Carolina, our hearts go out to those in Texas.





Narrative Reconstruction: a Lesson we can learn from Taylor Swift

This past Sunday, Taylor Swift premiered the music video for her latest single, Look What You Made Me Do, at the MTV Video Music Awards. The video went viral upon release, and subsequently has been the subject of a number of internet think pieces breaking down the star’s critiques on different personas of herself in the public eye over the course of her career. In case you missed it, you can find it here.

 But beyond providing a tongue in cheek look into the perceptions of a widely successful pop artist, the idea of reconstructing narratives for self-affirmation can be key to those who have suffered previous traumatic experiences.

 A study recently published in Qualitative Social Work studied the effect of narrative construction, or having an organized and logical story of their previous traumatic experiences, along with a clear sense of self throughout and a sense of how that experience has shaped them. They found that compared to those who had not constructed a narrative, those with a higher level of narrative construction noted an increased acceptance of their experiences, and being more likely to perceive life experiences as positive and significant. Those with an elevated sense of narrative construction credited their success to strategies such as reflective writing, informal conversations with supportive friends and family, and seeking professional help such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

But often, the stressors of daily life are somewhere between trauma and celebrity feud. As summer is ending and the school year here again, it’s a great time to begin to regularly process emotions, especially with the seemingly constant stream of news and celebrity gossip. With September being Self-Awareness month, taking the time for some reflective journaling, or simply maintaining a strong support system of friends and family can set you up for success. If you feel like talking to a professional, the university has wonderful Counseling and Psychological Services, with walk in services regularly available. Beyond that, if you need additional help for figuring out to find a therapist, or if you’re curious about what therapy could look like, check out this article published by the New York Times – How to Find the Right Therapist.


For CAPS Walk-In Services:

Go to the 3rd floor of the Campus Health Services Building.

MON-THURS: 9 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm

FRI: 9:30 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm.



Qualitative Social Work: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1473325016656046

New York Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/smarter-living/how-to-find-the-right-therapist.html?mcubz=1&_r=0

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.



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:


  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!



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


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:



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!