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Joking About OCD on Twitter Won't Gain You Any Followers

Trivializing mental illness by making jokes on Twitter may not endear your followers to you.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that is often trivialized in casual conversation and on social media. So, as it's Mental Health Awareness Week, BPS wrote up an appropriate summary of a recent study looking into how 574 people reacted to serious and joke posts on OCD.


Most of the time on Twitter users will use the hashtag #OCD to underscore their fussy behaviors or pet peeves — dramatizing their personal ticks by associating it with a mental disorder. Others openly talk about their struggles in thoughtful ways. So, what kind of user would we rather have in our feeds?

Rachel Pavelko and Jessica Myrick created several fictional Twitter accounts with a split gender ratio. The researchers made sure the accounts were complete with avatars, bios, and 15 recent tweets. Half of the fictional accounts self-identified as having OCD, stating things in their bios, like “Enjoy friends and good movies. Making my way through this world with a diagnosis of OCD.” The other accounts had a generic bio that read: "I love: friends, good movies, sports, and ice cream.”

The content of the tweets were mixed with posts unrelated to OCD and some that were. For the tweets about OCD, some were framed respectfully, writing things like:

“It’s not easy to deal with, but therapy and my great support system certainly help me everyday. #livingwithOCD.”

or

"Raising money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness to support my aunt in her struggle with #OCD"

However, researchers also inserted tweets on some of the fictional accounts that trivialized the disease, with posts that read: “Can’t stand all these crazy perfectionist people in my office. Not impressed that your file folders are alphabetized. #ThatsSoOCD.”

The researchers recruited 574 participants to assess the likability of the account holders and their views on OCD, in general. Pavelko and Myrick found that a small percentage of the participants self-identified as obsessive compulsive (3.9 percent) and 9.3 percent said they had a relative with the disease. While 29 percent reported they lived with some other mental illness.

The results indicated that participants found accounts that posted jokes about OCD weren't well received by most participants. The researchers wrote, “Trivialized content lowers observers’ liking and identification with Twitter users.” This was compared to users that treated the illness with respect and posted about it with sincerity. What's more, the researchers wrote that accounts that self-identified as having OCD were “admired by participants.”

Bottom line: Jokes about mental illness won't win you any Twitter popularity contests.

Read more at BPS.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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