Social media – an essential item in the mental health care toolbox?

 What’s social media got to do with mental health care? A recent article by Stephanie Pappas summarises recent studies that suggest Facebook can be bad for our mental health. Reading other people’s status updates can make us feel worse about our own lives and make us negatively compare ourselves with others. 354 friends is the cut-off point for when participants in one study started to feel bad about viewing status updates.

This raises some interesting questions for me about use of social media for all of us, and in particular for people experiencing mental health problems. To what extent can social media be a positive tool in a person’s recovery or an alienating one that exacerbates distress? What is the role of mental health professionals in helping people navigate social media so they can use it positively and avoid pitfalls? Should professionals be getting involved anyway? And if so, what do they need to know and understand themselves?

There are various documents out there guiding healthcare professionals about how to use social media appropriately and in line with professional codes of conduct, for example, the Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance and the British Medical Association guidance. They quite rightly focus on the importance of upholding professional reputation and the potential serious consequences of breaches for registration.

What they do not focus on is the extent to which professionals could/should help people navigate social media so they can use it as part of their recovery journey. As use of social networking continues to increase, is it the responsibility of mental health professionals to keep up-to-date with social media as a vital part of their clinical tool-box? One of my hypotheses for my research is that is that lack of engagement with social media by mental health professionals and organisations will increasingly impede their ability to engage with and support people who use their services and who are active on the internet.  If professionals are not aware of and confident in using social media, and in tune with its developments, their effectiveness in offering support to people will be reduced.

To end on a personal note, a healthcare professional recently tutted and sighed when I confessed I had been looking on the internet for health information. How more helpful would it have been if they had clocked my penchant for online searches, (along with 70% of the UK population according to the Bupa Health Pulse report 2011) given me some up-to-date  information and advice about where to get good information and perhaps even pointed me to some peer support sites?  If you’ve had experiences of any of these issues, I’d love to hear from you.


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5 Responses to Social media – an essential item in the mental health care toolbox?

  1. Victoria says:

    Great article!,

    I am a mental health care professional and I am recovering from depression. Being able to connect to the internet, and using professional social networking sites ,has been important for keeping me to keeep abreast of professional issues but also helps in my recovery by connecting me to the outside world. I think it’s imperative for mental health professionals to keep up with social media. My own professional organisation is online and requires nearly all of it’s members to log in to access information relevant to all aspects of professional practice.

    I would think mental health professionals can play a role in educating the public about the negative aspects of social media. I also think when dealing with clients in practice a psychologist must have the understanding and knowledge to be able to help their clients navigate and use the internet and all it’s facets in a way that enhances the well being of the client. Clients are going to use the internet to self diagnose and this is a dangerous thing. Diagnosis cannot be done by looking at a symptom check list over the internet. However, there would be reputible sites with good mental health information that can help recovery. Steering the clients towards reliable information would be part of the treatment plan. Education is always a component of treatment.

    • Victoria says:

      Thank you so much for your comment – really appreciated. Yes I agree that thinking of social media as part of an educative component of offering support is really important. People will be using social media anyway so discussing rather than ignoring it makes loads of sense I think.

  2. Andy Johnson says:

    Agree about MH services needing to address social media issues. Brought this up spontaneously at a “Risk Training” session a while ago, and a couple of people nodded and spoke a little (risk splurges everywhere don’t it?), but it was generally held to be “not the kind of thing that we do”. I am certainly no whizz at social media and am new on the ‘Book. Generally I try not to get uptight about the whole thing, fearing it’s addictiveness but enjoying it’s inexpensiveness. However, I did quickly get a feeling for how it could impact both ways on a person’s mental well being and also cause complications for services and service users. An interesting subject, good luck Victoria.

    • Victoria says:

      Thank you for your comment Andy. I’m pretty sure awareness and engagement with social media personally and/or professionally will vary wildly in mental health services. We need positive examples to show doubters that the benefits can outweigh the risks for professionals. We’re working on updating our social media policy and guidelines at the moment – let me know if you’d like to check them out – would be good to have an objective eye :-)

  3. Ermintrude2 says:

    Really good post and I’m not only saying that because I agree. I think that as someone who works in mental health, I would risk both not serving the people with whom I work as well if I wasn’t aware of being able to signpost other resources and not understanding the potential that can be available to others through different kinds of peer support networks if I didn’t have an understanding of social media.
    I was quite sick a while ago and googled my condition, finding a forum and asking/joining it. It allowed me to be a lot more open than I was with my doctor – rightly or wrongly. Telling people not to google their symptoms seems to me, to be infantilising as it is something we all do naturally (I think!).
    Personally I think boundaries need to be clearer, especially as we are finding our way, but we can’t ignore the opportunities

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