Schizophrenia is among the top ten causes of disability worldwide, often leading to significant psychosocial difficulties and economic setbacks. Individuals with schizophrenia often experience distressing cognitive, behavioral, and emotional symptoms that interfere with social relationships and lead to isolation. Not only does the illness begin during a critical developmental stage when people are trying to establish independence, but its severity and time of onset may interfere with age-appropriate social roles. Thus, the networks of people with schizophrenia tend to be smaller than the general population and have fewer non-kin members. Researchers have documented that social connectedness and supports are important protective factors for mental health and critical for recovery. However, resources that foster these networks for people with this illness are limited. With the information age, social media has become the primary means by which young adults establish, maintain, and enhance their social connections and support systems. Online social media may offer opportunities to establish relationships that would otherwise be difficult to pursue through face-to-face interactions. Yet, no research to date has explored how young adults with schizophrenia use social media. This proposed mixed methods study will describe how 40 young adults aged 18-26 diagnosed with schizophrenia use social media and how its use impacts social relationships and well-being, and compare it to a community sample of 40 young adults without mental illness. An Advisory Board comprised of content experts and people with lived experience will inform various aspects of this study. With their feedback and findings from qualitative interviews with a subset of the sample (10 from each group), we will refine the quantitative assessment battery. We will then conduct in-person 60-90-minute surveys of the entire sample. In addition to a demographic questionnaire (gender, race, education) that includes questions pertinent to the clinical sample (e.g., age at diagnosis, hospitalizations), we will examine how the Internet, particularly social media, is used (e.g., email;text messaging;video gaming;Facebook and other social media;and online friendships);reasons for the choice;nature, intensity, and quality of interaction with people online;and attitudes about technology. A separate multivariate regression analysis will be performed for each social media subscale. To determine if the use of social media by young adults with schizophrenia is related to social support, size of network, and distress and if these relationships differ between groups, we will conduct a separate multivariate regression analysis for social support, size of network and distress. We will also determine whether social media helps young adults with schizophrenia feel more included in social networks, and how these experiences interact with perceived and internalized stigma. Through understanding the usage and benefits (if any) of social media, we can determine if this is a promising direction for tailoring social media strategies into interventions, such as social skills training, that support social connectedness.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe brain disorder that can be disabling, and often leads to fragmented social networks and isolation. With the explosion of the Information Age, social media has the potential to help those with serious mental illness enhance their social ties and support networks, an important aspect of recovery. The proposed study, the first of its kind, will explore how young adults with schizophrenia can benefit from the safe use of social media.