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How can social media help address mental health public policy goals?

By Nick Pickles
Friday, 17 February 2017

We know social media plays an increasing role in how people of all ages access information. We also know that many people face mental health challenges but are unsure where to turn for assistance, or are reluctant to do so for a variety of reasons, including lack of understanding and the fear of being stigmatised.

There’s more we can all do. We can be quicker to ask if friends would like to talk, stronger in challenging those who think mental health issues are somehow less deserving of our energy than physical health, and more honest about sharing our own experiences. Stigma still exists and we need to recognise that if we are to challenge it.

Social media has already amplified powerful campaigns that change the perception of mental health and spread a message of hope. From @TimeToChange to #ItGetsBetter, we’ve seen countless stories of users sharing their own experiences and supporting each other.

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At Twitter we work with nonprofits every day, helping them use our platform and reach more people. We’ve worked with expert groups, through our Trust and Safety Council for example, to better understand how our policies can be improved and changed. This feedback loop has helped us build products to make things like reporting easier and to introduce a safe search function for all our users.

Already this year we’ve seen the Samaritans and many others join together for #BrewMonday, highlighting both the power of a hashtag to bring distant people together - and the restorative magic of a good brew! The Vamps’ James McVey and Chris Hemmings dropped by our office for a Periscope chat about masculinity and emotional issues as part of the #HeForShe campaign, and this month, Twitter is supporting B-eat’s #EDAW2017 campaign with an AdsForGood grant.

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That said, we’ll never stop thinking about how we can more of an impact and so next week I’ll be in Edinburgh, Scotland to discuss these issues and challenge everyone in attendance to come up with new and bright ideas to challenge stigma and stereotypes.

I’m delighted that we will be joined by the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt MSP, Miles Briggs MSP, Ruth Davidson MSP and Monica Lennon MSP, as well as a range of charities, local students, frontline staff, academics, policy makers and experts. This isn’t just about looking at the problem. It’s about asking what more we can do and making it happen.

We’ll spend the morning exploring the challenges social media poses and the opportunities that exist online, but we won’t stop there. We’ll spend the afternoon coming up with campaigns that address these challenges - whether it’s raising awareness of support services with specific groups, or challenging stereotypes and sharing personal experiences of treatment. Not every campaign will come to fruition, but that’s ok - the exciting part is seeing new ideas take shape and campaigns grow from ideas that can be taken forward by anyone.

When the ideas have been developed and the campaigns are ready to launch, we’ll put Twitter’s AdsForGood programme behind the best ideas, with pro-bono advertising credits given directly to organisations to test their ideas and to reach people across Scotland and beyond. Our ambition is that for every month of 2017, we’ll have a different mental health campaign supported by Twitter running in the UK and that we can use the experiences and data to make even stronger campaigns in future.

This isn’t just about reaching lots of people. We’ll be supporting carefully targeted campaigns to test different messages, try out a variety of content and styles, perhaps even introducing animations and live streaming. It’s about experimenting, innovating and most importantly learning.

We’ll host a second event in London, building on the ideas and coming up with new ones, talking about different perspectives and sharing experiences. Later in the year we’ll be running follow up events to discuss the campaigns and identify what worked well and what we can learn for the future.

Twitter isn’t the only way to reach people, but it is a way to reach millions of people who might not know where to turn or that there are other people who feel like they do. These events are an opportunity to take a diverse understanding of the challenges people face, the ability of Twitter to drive social change - and most important of all - to make a real difference to people’s lives.

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@nickpickles

Nick Pickles

‎@nickpickles‎

Senior Public Policy Manager, Twitter UK