May 6, 2022

Our Researcher, Sarah Sperry Ph.D., Took to Reddit for World Bipolar Day 2022

Dr. Sperry, along with over 40 other experts, participated in a Reddit AMA about bipolar disorder

Sarah Sperry AMA Image
Sarah Sperry, Ph.D.

On World Bipolar Day, March 30th, 2022; Prechter Program researcher Sarah Sperry, Ph.D., participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread about bipolar disorder.

A different kind of social media

What is Reddit? The short answer is that it is a social media platform in the form of message boards where people can share news and content, comment on other people’s posts, and more. Forums are called “Subreddits” and are named with an “r/” in front of the topic; for example, the Subreddit hosting the AMA Dr. Sperry participated in is named r/IAmA

Reddit is the 6th most popular site in the U.S., according to Amazon Alexa, and the 13th worldwide. Part of Reddit’s “culture” is the idea of “ask me anything (AMA).” Any forum on Reddit can host an AMA, but a few Subreddits are entirely dedicated to the concept.   

Providing a forum to ask questions of experts

On March 30th, 2022, as part of World Bipolar Day, the r/IAmA Subreddit hosted an event centered around bipolar disorder questions and answers, with over 40 experts, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, researchers, and people with lived experience. Dr. Sarah Sperry represented the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program. She answered several questions from Reddit users about bipolar disorder. The AMA was viewed 2.6 million times; there were 2,400 shares, and questions had an 89% upvote (positive reaction) rate.

Screenshot of Reddit AMA interface
Screenshot of r/IamA homepage with the World Bipolar Day post.

Participating in an AMA 

Dr. Sperry had this to say about the experience:

“I was honored to be involved in this event and enjoyed responding to questions. Given my clinical and research expertise, I primarily responded to questions regarding diagnosis, psychosocial treatment, and alcohol and substance use in bipolar disorder.”

Some questions Dr. Sperry answered were:    

Note: links go to the question asked with Dr. Sperry’s answer. She identifies herself by saying, “Sarah here.”

When asked about why she participated in this AMA, Dr. Sperry said:

“Events like this are essential to provide information to communities that may not otherwise have access to research. It was exciting to talk about my Prechter Longitudinal Study research and share what we’ve learned from Dr. Melvin McInnis and the Prechter Program’s work over the past 15 years. I was able to reference what we, Preacher Program researchers, have learned, such as Dr. Sue O’Shea’s work on induced pluripotent stem cells, Dr. Kelly Ryan’s work on cognition in bipolar disorder, and my collaborative work with Dr. Ivy Tso on impulsivity/affective inhibition in bipolar disorder.”

The importance of engaging with people through events 

Events like the World Bipolar Day AMA help people living with bipolar disorder feel heard, gain more knowledge of the science and research behind their symptoms and treatments, and foster a good rapport between researchers and people with lived experience. An event like this helps experts focus their research programs on questions that apply to lived experience. For example, the number of questions Dr. Sperry received about managing bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder reinforced the Longitudinal Study’s importance in helping researchers learn more about the relationship between alcohol and mood shifts. Dr. Sperry is hopeful that furthering knowledge in this area will help develop treatments for co-occurring bipolar disorder and alcohol usage. The connections between researchers and the public formed by participation in events like this will build trust and help inform and speed research.