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.