Master of Arts
The physical and mental health and wellness of Indigenous peoples is cultivated through interrelations with spiritual, cultural, community, and social practices: these practices strengthen identity and belonging. COVID-19 has disrupted many of these relational practices or shifted them to digital environments such as social media. Drawing on a thematic analysis of Tweets from March 2020-December 2021 (n=1137), I address the research question: How are Twitter users across Turtle Island engaging with Indigenous mental health content on Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic? Within an Indigenous context, no exploratory research has been conducted on who is engaging with mental health content on social media, where they are located, or what is being said. Filling this gap requires a novel research agenda - Indigenous digital health geographies – that understands how access to, and participation with, digital environments, can influence Indigenous peoples’ health and wellness. Findings demonstrate that Twitter is space for expressing and strengthening Indigeneity, sharing cultural knowledge/resources, and supporting healing from trauma. Creating capacity for dedicated social media roles and researchers within existing Indigenous Twitter practices may improve mental health outcomes; this approach also requires a policy shift that adheres to the relational ethics of Twitter users and researchers.
Summary for Lay Audience
Indigenous peoples worldwide have unique and interconnected relationships with their land and environments; these connections are critical for strengthening connection with spirit, culture, and community, all of which are vital for health and wellness. COVID-19 uniquely impacts Indigenous peoples’ abilities to maintain these relationships; the lockdown of communities and the establishment of social/physical distancing measures has led to deteriorating physical and mental health and it led to exacerbated inequities among communities who suffered prior to the pandemic. However, amidst these global crises alternative perspectives and methods for enabling Indigenous people to engage in relational, health promoting practices – via social media.
In summer 2020, I was involved in a research team that interviewed Indigenous health care providers, who talked about how they and their patients were mobilizing to support connection to land, culture, and one another. Examples include virtual fitness groups, online powwows, dance, and public art.
Building from the findings of this work, my MA research examines Indigenous mental health content on the social media platform Twitter, to identify key supports, tensions, and constrains of Indigenous peoples’ mental health during the first 22 months of the pandemic. Each tweet was also classified as a re-tweet, original tweet, or reply and mention. Next, it was described as being a personal expression, news/media, online gathering, resource, or other. In addition, I categorized the different user types engaging with this content and recorded their geographic locations.
From March 2020-December 2021, 65 different tweet themes were identified across 1137 tweets. There were 12 key themes based on the total number of times there were referenced: Mental health supports, resources, healing, education, politics and government, youth, media, trauma, racialized effects, health inequity, compounding effects and intersectionality, and racism. Most Twitter users were individuals’ accounts, the greatest number of tweets came from the USA, most often tweets were in “re-tweet” form, and shared news/media content.
These findings shed light on the everyday conversations of Indigenous mental health on Twitter during the pandemic, as well as how social media research may support the self-determination of Indigenous mental health.
Reitmeier, Veronica, "Digital geographies of Indigenous health: Exploring Indigenous Mental Health content from Turtle Island during COVID-19" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8750.