Blog yourself well – why mental health services should support citizen journalism

Last week saw the launch of Leeds’ first blog about mental health and wellbeing in Leeds. It is called Leeds Wellbeing Web: your voice on keeping well in Leeds. The purpose of the blog is to provide a space where people can contribute information, stories, pictures or films about places and activities in Leeds which help maintain their wellbeing. The blog aims to encourage us to think more positively and proactively about mental health and wellbeing. It’s about giving people a voice to tell their own stories, and the story of their city, through their own eyes. It an open resource which anyone with mental health difficulties can contribute to.

The idea for the blog was conceived by Katie Brown and then supported and developed by a number of individuals and organisations in Leeds who were committed to the idea of creating a space where people can share information and ideas about mental health and wellbeing in the city.

The idea of citizen journalism isn’t a new one. Its principles include open participation and communal evaluation. A blog is just a starting point. Each post is refined and developed through subsequent comments. Knowledge is produced collectively and collaboratively. There is generally a social motivation rather than a commercial one. Alex Bruns in his book Blogs, Wikipedia. Second life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (2008) has an interesting chapter on citizen journalism that’s worth a read. He introduces the notion of produsage where the line between production and consumption is blurred.

Bruns argues that citizen journalism represents a shift from mainstream commercial news journalism where the article tends to be the finished product to be consumed by its audience. Mainstream media has received much attention over recent years for stereotyping mental distress. This website provides a counterbalance. It provides first person accounts produced by people with expertise from their lived experience.

There is a similar shift taking place within mental health services – a recognition that knowledge and expertise isn’t just held by professionals. People with lived experience hold their own knowledge about what works and doesn’t work. This blog represents a subtle shift in power. People telling their own stories about what matters to them. It is recovery focused – about wellness rather than illness. You can see an interesting post on the notion of wellbeing here. I hope this blog will be read by people working in mental health services for that reason.

Mental health services need to keep up with developments in digital technologies that mean more and more people are sharing their stories and experiences online. We need to get stuck in, offer support to ventures such as this blog, be up for whatever conversations emerge and make sure we take part in them. I work for Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and we are on our own journey working out how we engage with digital technologies. It feels like unchartered territory. We’ll make mistakes along the way. But I strongly believe the direction of travel is good for people using our services, people working in them and for people who, through this new blog, have a virtual space to find out about mental health and wellbeing in Leeds.

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