The idea that social media can negatively impact our mental and emotional health is not a new one, but a recently published article in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease titled “Twitter Psychosis: A Rare Variation or a Distinct Syndrome?” is claiming to shed new light on the subject.
The article details the case of “Mrs. C,” a 31 year old Twitter user who had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Germany as the result of a mental breakdown. Mrs. C’s psychotic symptoms developed alongside her excessive use of social network Twitter. The study noted that “sometimes, she would spend several hours a day reading and writing messages, neglecting her social relationships and, sometimes, even meals and regular sleeping hours.”
Mrs. C’s first symptoms of mental illness first began to manifest through Twitter. She believed that a celebrity was responding to her Tweets through secretly coded messages. Eventually, she began noticing these coded messages coming from multiple sources on Twitter. Things became progressively worse, until she eventually developed what the article calls a “systematized paranoid delusion.”
After Mrs. C’s admittance to the hospital, she quickly recovered, lost all interest in Twitter and exhibited no remaining signs of Internet addiction.
The study’s authors speculate that Twitter’s very structure has the potential to cause serious problems for people who are psychotically predisposed and are already in a precarious state of mental health. They think that the symbolic language produced by the 140 character limit, the automated spam responses, and the social network’s interactive features combine several aspects that the authors feel could potentially aggravate users’ psychosis.
Now, people are wondering if Twitter Psychosis is actually a real problem, or if the case of Mrs. C was simply an isolated incident.
According to Dr. Jan Kalbitzer of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, it’s not real.
“This is a single case which we presented to the medical community to discuss with colleagues if they have made similar experiences,” said Kalbitzer.
The doctor went on to explain that the study wasn’t proving anything, but merely suggesting that the case of Mrs. C may be an example of a “a new risk that comes with social media or just a change of form and content of delusional beliefs.”
“Like anything interactive and engaging, social media can become addictive. I personally have had moments where I have the rise-and-fall cycles of social media use,” says Tom Ajello, Founder of Makeable. “You can certainly have too much of a good thing – like eating too much cheesecake for example. I think we’re just now fully starting to see the backlash and repercussions of over-use of social media and other technology addictions. Twitter is what you make of it, you can sculpt your twitter experience entirely based on the type of people you follow.”