course ID: 2020_cDEpi

The digital epidemiology of mental health: Leveraging geo-referenced social media to improve well-being


Social media provide unprecedented opportunities to address the health needs of populations, including mental wellbeing. Social media can be used to reduce stigma, increase awareness and understanding, and promote better mental health. Patterns of online interactions in social media may be used for screening purposes and improve detection and timely diagnosis of common mental disorders. Treatment opportunities of social media include self-management programs and support through peer-to-peer interactions, but may extend to the delivery of psychosocial interventions. This rapidly emerging field requires competences and collaborations across very diverse disciplines. To unleash the great potential of social media to improve mental wellbeing it is imperative that methods and approaches of different disciplines are blended efficiently and carefully.

This course will focus on designing novel interventions that help improve mental wellbeing in populations using social media.

We will first start with providing an overview about the fields of digital epidemiology, m-geo-health (mobile health applications that leverage geographic information), social media data analytics, and link these to challenges and opportunities in population mental health.

Second, we will provide a methodological framework for the design, piloting, testing, evaluation, scale-up, and monitoring of complex interventions for mental health and mental wellbeing using social media, and we will critically address the related ethical and legal aspects.

The course will be rounded up with mini-research projects, in which participants will work in small groups to design novel social media-based interventions for addressing real-world mental health problems.


By the end of the course participants will be able to:

  • Describe the fields of digital epidemiology, m-geo-health, social media analytics, and public mental health
  • Use theoretical frameworks for the evaluation of complex interventions in mental health and wellbeing using social media
  • Critically assess mental health interventions based on big social media and related legal and ethical aspects
  • Design novel interventions to improve mental well-being in populations using social media data


No specific prerequisite.

Previous participation in the SSPH+ course Big Data in Public Health is encouraged particularly for those who have limited experience in digital and spatial epidemiology

Emiliano Albanese

Professor of Public Health, Faculty of Biomedical Sciences, Università della Svizzera italiana;

Associate Professor of Public Mental Health and Director, WHO Collaborating Center for research and training in mental health, University of Geneva, Switzerland (CH)

L. Suzanne Suggs

Professor of Social Marketing, USI

Vice President,  SSPH+ (CH)


ESMA board member