Social media recruitment for mental health research: A systematic review

Catherine Sanchez, Adrienne Grzenda, Andrea Varias, Alik S. Widge, Linda L. Carpenter, William M. McDonald, Charles B. Nemeroff, Ned H. Kalin, Glenn Martin, Mauricio Tohen, Maria Filippou-Frye, Drew Ramsey, Eleni Linos, Christina Mangurian, Carolyn I. Rodriguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Social media holds exciting promise for advancing mental health research recruitment, however, the extent and efficacy to which these platforms are currently in use are underexplored. Objective: A systematic review was conducted to characterize the current use and efficacy of social media in recruiting participants for mental health research. Method: A literature review was performed using MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsychINFO. Only non-duplicative manuscripts written in the English language and published between 1/1/2004–3/31/2019 were selected for further screening. Data extracted included study type and design, participant inclusion criteria, social media platform, advertising strategy, final recruited sample size, recruitment location, year, monetary incentives, comparison to other recruitment methods if performed, and final cost per participant. Results: A total of 176 unique studies that used social media for mental health research recruitment were reviewed. The majority of studies were cross-sectional (62.5%) in design and recruited adults. Facebook was overwhelmingly the recruitment platform of choice (92.6%), with the use of paid advertisements being the predominant strategy (60.8%). Of the reviewed studies, substance abuse (43.8%) and mood disorders (15.3%) were the primary subjects of investigation. In 68.3% of studies, social media recruitment performed as well as or better than traditional recruitment methods in the number and cost of final enrolled participants. The majority of studies used Facebook for recruitment at a median cost per final recruited study participant of $19.47. In 55.6% of the studies, social media recruitment was the more cost-effective recruitment method when compared to traditional methods (e.g., referrals, mailing). Conclusion: Social media appears to be an effective and economical recruitment tool for mental health research. The platform raises methodological and privacy concerns not covered in current research regulations that warrant additional consideration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number152197
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Recruitment
  • Research
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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