Social Media is ubiquitous—there seem to be as many ways to use it as there are people using it. Underlying its success is the drive we have to connect with other people and have them connect with us. People like us, people different from us, people we already know, and people we have yet to meet.
It seems astonishing that in just a few short years entire communities have been created online, such as PsychCentral’s Mental Health Social, as well as the PsychCentral forums.
Many of you (but not all, as we recently learned) are using Social Media to connect. And overwhelmingly, you say you are gaining from your interactions.
Of course there are dangers, too. We’ve blogged about the dangers of the Internet and Social Media in the past, but we wanted to learn more specifically about the potential for mental health care and addiction treatment benefits.
Via email, we recently interviewed Marc LeVine, the Vice President of Community Outreach for The Center, a therapeutic mental health and addiction treatment program in New Jersey, which specializes in the treatment of co-occurring disorders. Marc is also a Social Media expert who has been blogging regularly about Social Media and mental health at icanewfriend.com.
Q. Welcome, Marc. Has Social Media had any impact on addiction treatment or mental health care? In what way?
Social Media has found its way into every nook and cranny of society and it impacts us all in some way. I am not sure that experts have enough experience and data to definitively say much about Social Media from a therapeutic standpoint. In fact they are still researching Social Media as an addiction, itself.
At the same time, social science researchers are using Social Media as a tool of choice. They facilitate their research by observing user behaviors; reading the clinical studies of others; publishing their own work; and by sharing what they have learned in online platforms and Internet forums.
Q. Could you tell us a bit about the benefits and the drawbacks as you see them?
There are benefits. Some people with mental illness or addiction prefer the anonymity the Internet (and Social Media) provides. It allows them to express themselves to others without having to share their true identities, thereby exposing themselves to possible exploitation as well as the pain of stigma.
When used properly, Social Media opens new communication pathways for those who feel trapped and very much alone. They can reach out for support from family and friends who are distant as well as others. They can learn more about their own illnesses from professionals and peers and they can also use the Web to send information to the services they depend on for treatment, shelter and food. Several twenty-four hour hotlines are also available online and have been credited with saving people from suicide and accidental drug overdoses.
Obviously, a big downside of using Social Media is the same for everyone, whether or not they have a mental illness or addiction – exploitation. Some people with mental illness are potentially more vulnerable to schemes and other personal threats. This is why it is critical for mental health professionals to help their clients, when appropriate, become more aware about the safe use of the Internet.
Q. So Social Media offers people the chance to connect without pressure to reveal too much, get support from a variety of professionals and peers, transcend stigma in some ways, get help in chronic and emergency situations…that’s a lot!
What about the Internet in general? Do you think it’s actually impacted mental health care and addiction treatment?
First and foremost, having access to the so much information has increased and improved general awareness about mental illness and chemical addiction. It is playing an important role in educating the public and reducing stigma. Currently, stigma is the biggest obstacle to helping the mentally ill and those with addictions, seek help and improve.
Q. We’ve actually noticed that people are simply so much more informed today about mental illness and addiction, and the associated stigma does seem to waning.
What’s on the horizon in terms of Social Media, the Internet, mental health care and addiction treatment?
We’re all waiting for the research that will show us the best ways to make use of Social Media, in the treatment of mental illness and chemical addictions. I think that the greatest benefit the mental health communities will gain from Social Media will be the access to knowledge and training that clinicians will have. No longer will they wait for quarterly journals to arrive to read about the next big thing in treatment.
That’s an excellent point!
I also believe that online therapy is showing signs of being a tremendous boon to the mental health profession—it allows for greater access to clients, perhaps at a reduced cost to health care insurers and also cuts down on expenses. Also, strides made in electronic record keeping will allow patient records to be securely maintained online so that psychologists, psychologists, doctors, hospitals and social workers can immediately get up to speed on patients in crisis or in transition
Thanks so much, Marc, for taking the time to talk to us.
In addition to Marc LeVine, there are mental health and addiction professionals and people with mental illness and/or addiction who blog about how Social Media is changing their world…for good or bad!
Here are a couple of links to get you started:
A blog devoted to the topic of physicians and Social Media, and an interesting article by psychologist, Susan Giurleo.
NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness) uses Social Media for mental health activism.
An interesting post about the intersection between mental health and Social Media by therapist Isabella Mori.
If you’d like to read more about Social Media, mental health, and addiction, from Marc LeVine, check out his blog.