BACKGROUND: The role and prevention of stigma in mental illness is an area of evolving research.
AIMS: The present study is the first to examine the use and misuse of the word 'schizophrenia' on Twitter.com in comparison with another illness (diabetes) by analyzing Tweets that use the adjective and noun forms of schizophrenia and diabetes.
METHOD: Tweets containing one of four search terms (#schizophrenia, #schizophrenic, #diabetes, #diabetic) were collected over a forty-day time period. After establishing inter-rater reliability, Tweets were rated along three dimensions: medical appropriateness, negativity, and sarcasm. Chi square tests were conducted to examine differences in the distributions of each parameter across illnesses and across each word form (noun versus adjective).
RESULTS: Significant differences were seen between the two illnesses (i.e., among "schizophrenia", "schizophrenic", "diabetes", and "diabetic") along each parameter. Tweets about schizophrenia were more likely to be negative, medically inappropriate, sarcastic, and used non-medically. The adjective ("schizophrenic") was more often negative, medically inappropriate, sarcastic, and used non-medically than the noun "schizophrenia." Schizophrenia tweets were more likely to be negative and sarcastic when used non-medically and in a medically inappropriate manner.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings confirm the presence of a great deal of misuse of the term schizophrenia on Twitter, and that this misuse is considerably more pronounced by the adjectival use of the illness. These findings have considerable implications for efforts to combat stigma, particularly for youth anti-stigma efforts.