Yesterday I was able to attend an event at the ORTUS about social media and mental health. A variety of topics were covered, including how staff in the trust felt about social media and the ways in which patients are using it. A lot of questions were raised and it got me thinking about the uses and positive aspects of social media as a communication tool.
Social media can be a vital tool for some people who struggle with their mental health. One of the best things that social media is able to do is connect people – which is good for members of the community who may be isolated for some reason. When I am ill I find myself actively isolating myself, and often places like Twitter and Facebook are my first ports of call when I feel able to “re-integrate” and feel ready to put myself out there again. You can reach existing friends and family, but also make new relationships with people. The ability to do so all in one place can be quite appealing for some. I have made some of the most amazing friends through the internet and it has opened up so many opportunities for me, helping me to stay connected to people who I care for and work with.
People also find social media therapeutic. There are countless blogs where people write openly about their day-to-day struggles and find support in other people. Of course this is not just limited to bloggers, there are vloggers (people who blog to a camera), twitter users, tumblr users and instagramers just to name a few. There is an online mental health “community” which provides people with a (mostly) non-stigmatizing environment where users are free to express how they feel and help others. One of the things that came up yesterday was how empowering it was for people to have a space to do so – to feel listened-to and cared for, and to be able to speak up and share their experiences is immensely validating. Social media also provides the choice of anonymity which is incredibly valuable. Speaking out also helps to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health problems and works at making it something that everyone finds acceptable to speak about openly.
But while social media can play such a large role in patient’s lives, it was clear that some clinicians weren’t sure how to approach it, or how to speak to their patients about their social media use. A comment was made that in CAMHS “service users are worlds away from clinicians… [the staff’s ‘world’ growing up] is not the world that the young people we are treating live in”. A concern raised was that staff didn’t have the “correct vocabulary” for them to be able to speak to their patients. As a young person accessing CAMHS services, this made me think. As well as positives, social media can be used in negative ways and I’m unsure that I would feel comfortable speaking to my therapist if a situation had arisen online and was impacting on my mental health in some way. Although my current therapist seems quite tech-savvy and seems to understand the complexities that can be found online, I’m not sure that every professional I’ve come into contact with is the same. This would probably prevent me from speaking to them because I wouldn’t be sure what they would be able to “grasp”. In my experience, often when things go wrong on social media there’s many levels to it and even explaining to the most knowledgeable person on the planet could be a challenge! I think that this creates some grey area between the clinician and patient – staff not feeling confident enough to approach the subject and patients not feeling as though they would understand. It was suggested that there should be some form of training on social media for staff and I genuinely think that it would be a good idea. Even just basic knowledge could improve the communication between staff and patients.