From IVP Wiki
Revision as of 13:45, 11 October 2010 by Bill Densmore (talk | contribs) (Limitations and future research)

Convergence & Society: Science, health and new dimensions for communications

These are running notes by Bill Densmore of the ninth-annual Convergence and Society conference at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. on Oct. 11-12, 2010.

Monday morning, Oct. 11

Dean Charles Bierbauer of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, provides a short introduction.

Andrea Tanner, a conference co-chair, talks about a campus-wide effort on science and health communication. They also have a graduate certificate in health communications. It’s an expanding program, for working professionals and for graduate students.

Keynote speaker tonight is Elizabeth Cohen, a science correspondent for CNN. She’ll talk about challenges and opportunities of reporting medical and science.

Why do mental-health patients blog? – Yifeng Hu

Today’s first presenter is by Yifeng Hu of the College of New Jersey. She has been studying mental health blogs authored by patients. She says there are few studies on patient-authored health blogs and mental health is an often-ignored topic. One finding: Mental-health bloggers keep blogging even when nobody comments. She asked, “Why?” She wonders, is the public ignoring the giving part of social support.

She interviewed the mental-health patient bloggers and found that many of the patients expressed a desire to want to help others. Her theory: Is this sort of altruistic behavior good for their mental health? By projecting outward, and disengaging from self-reference, might that enhance their quality of life, Hu postulated?

So she asked two questions:

  • Are mental health bloggers more motivated to help others or to seek to help from others?
  • What are the relationships which result?

Did the blogging result in decreased absenses from work, improved emotional, cognitive or behavior? She started with two mental-health blog directories and selected blogs that have been updated at least once in six months to conduct her research. Her study sample included 162 blogs. She emailed them, wrote on their guest pages (if they had one) or commented on their latest blog entries. A total of 57 percent agreed to participate in her study. She also posted to mental-health group bloggers on Facebook. She verified their blog and their identity, asked them to complete an online survey and a $10 gift card as an incentive and ended up with 50 cases.

Most are female, middle-age and Caucasian and 88 percent have some college experience. Most are unemployed or homemakers and 64 percent live in the United States. A total of 96 percent have been diagnosted with a mental disorder and the top three disorders were depression (62 percent), bipolar disorder (52 percent) and anxiety disorders (48 percent).


  • “Mental health bloggers are more motivated to help than to seek help,” says Hu. She says mental-health patients often have a sense of shame because of historical views of their illness. This is partly because they are afraid of being stigmatized if they seek help and their condition becomes know among co-workers or others.
  • ”The helping motive is positive related to all perceived benefits,” because as mental-health patients reach out to help others, they gain a new perspective – their own health issues become less important.


  • Able to reach a population that is normally extremely hard to reach
  • Went beyond descriptive nature of content analysis
  • Provided a better understanding of blog media – this is one reason why people blog without feedback – they have altruistic motives
  • Suggests a new direction for examination of roles and effects of social media in health
  • Added empiracle evidence to the altruism literature

Limitations and future research

  • Need a larger (more than 50), more representative population
  • Need a longitudinal study or experiment to establish the causation
  • Use blogs to advocate against mental illness stigma?
  • Provide lessons for other social media and other types of content beyond mental health


Would results have been different if the 50 study participants were not diagnosed? She feels it doesn’t matter if they are diagnosed as long as they perceive they have mental health issues and blog about those issues. She does not think the results would differ. The reason most participants were diagnosed (based on self report) may surprise some people, but research shows most people who search for health information on the web end up going to their doctors. So that’s probably why most study participants were diagnosed.

Social web and prostate cancer – Alxis Koskan

Prostate cancer is the most-diagnosed cancer among men – 32,050 have died so far in 2010 and there were 217,730 cases reported in the U.S. this year. The highest rate among African American men is in South Carolina. There is debate about whether to get a blood test to check for the prostate-cancer antigen. Sometimes men receive a high score, even though the disease may be very early stage and the result can be treatment that has adverse side effects – urinary infections, incontinence and impotence. She studied websites and social-media services which address public-health information and doctor-patient decision-making on what to do about prostate cancer.


  • Recommend shared decisionmaking
  • Check credibility of blogs which have no authorship info
  • Half the sites don’t have mobilizing info – what to do next

Next steps

  • Need a readability and cultural sensitivity study of cancer websites. Perhaps they are written at too high a level.
  • Consider the users of the sites and what the need