Remember Dr. Drew? The nice guy who hosts Loveline? He knows the power of media to change how people think about a health issue.

He, along with leaders in the entertainment industry, social media, journalism, and suicide prevention announced new guidelines created to help shape social media conversations about mental health and suicide prevention. Designed for media professionals, the guidelines are just as - if not even more - useful for all of us using social media to share information and ideas about these issues.

The goal of creating guidelines is to balance sharing authentic content - the core of what makes social media so engaging - with de-stigmatizing mental illness and avoiding the glamorization of suicide or mental health concerns.

Some key ideas from the guidelines:

  • When linking to mental health information, use a reliable source. (Like government agencies, professional associations, well-known national nonprofits, or academic journals.)
  • Consider sharing positive stories about recovery, rather than only posting mental health-related content when there is a negative incident.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that family members may see your posts about their loved one’s suicide.
  • Use people-first language rather than labels. (Like, a person with schizophrenia, rather than “a schizophrenic.”)
  • Avoid descriptions and images of suicide acts or methods.

What’s different about using social media for mental health promotion and suicide prevention than using it to talk about any other topic? These issues are intensely personal. I love that one of the points made in the guidelines is to “be in it for the long haul,” which involves recognizing that “trust is built up over time, through ongoing participation in the online community.” All of the concepts for consideration in the guidelines are things I’ve thought about as I’ve blogged here over the past five years, writing about real people and difficult-to-communicate-in-500-words-or-less ideas (much less 140 characters!).

Social media foster connection and create community. Behind every Twitter handle and Facebook profile is a real person. Remembering that reality is essential to authenticity and success in the social media space. 

We move so quickly in this space - posting on the go from our smartphones, buying right into clickbait headlines (the worst!), sharing links without fully reading the articles. Focused on such an important and sensitive topic, the advice offered in the guidelines can help us all be more responsible in our efforts, whether they be personal or professional, to change the conversation about mental health and suicide prevention. 

I’m blogging for mental health! Today is the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Blog Day.

Copyright 2014 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved


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