By Aidan Scott, founder of Speakbox and mental health advocate
It takes just one simple online search to uncover all sorts of dangers of social media. From lost productivity to impaired sleep, there has been no lack of research and experts calling out the downside of social media. One area in particular that often makes headlines is how social media is harming our mental health.
Mood changes, increased anxiety and erosion of self-esteem are just a few of the ways social media has been painted “the bad guy.” But what’s discussed far less often is the positive aspects of what social media can offer to people, especially those in isolated or isolating situations.
As a teenager, I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was living with nightmares, anxiety attacks and even dissociation. It seemed natural to go online – I was a teenager, and that’s what teenagers do. What I found was a community of peers where I felt understood and supported. This is what social media offered me, and continues to offer many struggling youth today. It also gave me the courage to eventually seek professional treatment and ultimately forge a career in youth mental health advocacy.
The power of an online community goes beyond mental health. Groups of people living through cancer treatments congregate in online forums and discuss everything from clinical trials to side-effects. Parents of children with diseases so rare they are the only ones in their town connect across borders to share, support and unite in their knowledge. It’s cost effective and in real time – and it can only be done through social media, and in some cases, it’s lifesaving.
But, imagine the possibilities when the organic value of these online communities is formalized and expanded. Speakbox is a first-of-its-kind digital mental health service that pairs online peer support with secure digital journaling and access to a library of evidence-based activities that can help users manage their mental illness with physician-approved tactics. Its newest iteration will allow users to share information with their health care team. This will create an open channel of communication that doesn’t require individuals to retell and relive their trauma over and over again – resulting in more effective therapy sessions and appointments, and ultimately improved mental health care.
If, as a country, we are truly committed to changing the state of mental health, we need to integrate new and innovative thinking that promotes patient empowerment and leads to improved health outcomes. This is the focus of Canada Health Infoway’s movement for nationwide digital health – ACCESS 2022. Speakbox is an early partner in this initiative that brings together the collective expertise of an agile technology sector, the knowledge base of health system experts, and insights and experiences of patients and caregivers, to ultimately meet and exceed the demands of Canadians in the 21st century.
So, are the experts right about social media? Should we log off and put down our phones for the sake of our mental health? Sometimes, yes. But the power of connection and the information that can be accessed because of digital advancement in health can be lifesaving.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.