Social Media Is Changing What We Share About Our Health

When you’re in the midst of a health crisis, seeking support and information online isn’t a bad idea.

The New York Times published a thought-provoking piece highlighting yet another way social media has radically shifted our world: When we’re facing serious medical problems, we now have to consider whether to tell our family, friends and followers.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The piece, titled “Whom Do You Tell When You’re Sick? Maybe Everyone You Know,” approaches the to-share-or-not-to-share question from the lens of writer Bruce Feiler’s family. Feiler, a NYT bestselling author, writes about the serious health concerns he and his parents have faced — and how differently they chose to deal with them.

While Feiler chose to share his battle with cancer online, his parents wanted to keep their own medical issues private. “The most surprising thing I learned about this issue is that going public has one expected side effect: It gives patients a sense of control over their lives at a time of often intense helplessness,” Feiler writes.

And while you may not view social media as the place to source sound medical advice, Paul Wicks, a neuroscientist and A.L.S. specialist Feiler spoke to for the piece, says that helpful information might be just a status update away. “The value of a tweet-length piece of information can be the difference between life and death,” Wicks said.

Wicks’s own research also offers interesting insights into which conditions we deem shareable and which we’d rather not tell people about. At the top of the okay-to-share list are multiple sclerosis, A.L.S. and epilepsy, he said. Fibromyalgia, mood disorders and H.I.V are the conditions we’re least likely to disclose, Wicks’s research has found.

For all the good sharing can do, Feiler does urge some caution, quoting one pediatric cancer survivor who wishes she could take back some of what she shared during her treatment. In the end, Feiler writes that “the best professional advice on this issue is almost exactly the same as the best professional advice on other medical matters: Whatever you do, do it in moderation.”

Read the full story on The New York Times.