The need for increased mental health awareness is greater than ever, with reports suggesting that a growing number of people around the world struggle with depression and other mental health issues, according to studies carried out by NHS Digital.
Understanding the context of mental health is critical in changing the perception of the topic, which historically has been seen as taboo. Charities are working hard to understand the common causes of depression, anxiety and stress and how to best offer support to sufferers and their loved ones who may feel uncomfortable broaching the subject. Thanks to awareness raising work by various charities, the climate is slowly changing and people are finding it easier to talk about their problems. Studies into perceptions around mental health have confirmed that the stigma is beginning to fade.
In this blog post we ask: How has social media affected attitudes towards mental health?
How have public attitudes to mental health changed?
The public perception of mental health issues changing. According to a study carried out by Mind, a mental health charity in England and Wales, 1 in 4 people now experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
Despite this seemingly highlighting the issue of rising mental health difficulties, we are also talking and sharing more about the topic. Common causes of poor mental health typically include interpersonal issues, family problems and financial difficulties. However, the general understanding is that mental health deterioration is preventable, with 86% of people believe that intervention is necessary to halt its progress.
The spotlight is now clearly on the issue and attention is now focused on mental health awareness. We have seen a shift in trending hashtags relating to mental health awareness, including #BeKind, #SelfCare, #Self#Love, #ShiftYourMindset and #SelfCareMatters.
Google Search results have also replicated this shift, with a notable increase in searches for ‘mental health’ over the past five years – as seen in the chart below, taken from Google Search Trends across the UK.
Due to the increase in those being diagnosed with mental health problems, there has, of course, been a year-on-year increase in searches for ‘mental health support’. This search term shot up in April 2020, coincidentally when the first lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson in the UK, as seen below in UK Google Search results.
Over the past year there have been a number of initiatives by mental health awareness organisations and charities that have sought to reach out over social media to highlight the growing issue of mental health. Driving awareness via viral videos, hashtags and influencer clout, they have helped establish a new understanding and acceptance of mental health issues across all age groups.
Heads Together and the FA – Heads Up
Last year, mental health charity, Heads Together, partnered with the FA to launch a campaign to generate conversation surrounding mental health awareness, by reminding us all that mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. The campaign, which discusses the general stigma around mental health, generated national news coverage, especially in regards to men’s health, as men are traditionally less likely to speak up about their own mental health when compared with women.
The campaign is spearheaded by The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and both Princes, William and Harry, as well as the Duchess of Cambridge all feature heavily in its promotion.
Young Minds – Wise Up
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by the age of 24. With the combined pressures of education, bullying and cyberbullying, more and more young people are struggling with mental health than ever before.
Last year, Young Minds, a children and young person’s mental health charity in the UK, revealed their latest campaign to highlight and increase awareness of mental health issues in UK schools.
With performance in academic testing typically at the forefront of academic achievement, we have seen a rise in students struggling with their own wellbeing, unable to cope with these pressures. The campaign brought attention to the damaging emphasis on nationwide testing performance, by putting pressure on the government to rebalance the education system, with a plea to take action and #TellOfsted what makes a school ‘Outstanding’.
Time to Change – Ask Twice
Many of us feel uncomfortable opening up about our mental health which, again, is why many believe that it is of utmost importance to change the existing perceptions of mental health. It is often the case that when asked how we are feeling, we will often instinctively say “I’m fine” when we may be feeling the opposite.
Time to Change, a campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, aims to reduce mental health-related stigma and discrimination. Although a simple idea, their campaign ‘Ask Twice’ focuses on speaking out about mental health. It draws attention to the fact that many of us struggle to speak up and talk to friends or family about our mental health.
The headline of the campaign, which states “If a mate says he’s fine, and you think he might not be, ask twice”, encourages the public to talk to loved ones and really ask how they are. Though very simple, this campaign is effective and encourages people to communicate better – which could save a life.
Has Social Media Had a Positive or Negative Impact on Perceptions of Mental Health?
Social media has become fundamental in the way we communicate and share opinions, ideas, and information. Unfortunately, there is substantial evidence that social media can influence negative feelings and behaviours by opening the door to cyberbullying and increasing exposure to graphic and obscene content. Over the past few years, cyberbullying has led to an escalated number of people struggling with their mental health.
It could be argued that the rise of social media has had both positive and negative outcomes when it comes to attitudes towards mental health, But, recently, there has been some encouraging success in using its reach to drive participation in numerous awareness days and movements centred on mental health awareness.
The ‘Be Kind’ movement encourages us to be more helpful, generous and thoughtful towards others and yourself, whether it be thinking before you speak, offering help to others or listening to those who are struggling. Though this movement has been running for several years, it rose to the forefront of mental health awareness following the tragic passing of television presenter, Caroline Flack, in February 2020.
Other awareness days include World Mental Health Day, an annual awareness day which takes place on the 10th October every year and encourages us to speak out about our mental health. There is also Digital Detox Day, which encourages us to step away from our phones for one whole day, as studies have suggested using social media for more than two hours per day is associated with a decrease in mental health.
How Social Listening Can Be Useful to Better Understand Changing Perceptions
There are always ways to create new opportunities with mental health awareness, which is why social listening can be an invaluable tool to help drive insights and monitor discussions on the topic of mental health. With the increase of conversations that occur around specific mental health awareness days, it is also possible to gain a greater understanding of the audience that seek to engage on these occasions and offer meaningful and useful responses to the conversations that arise.
For charities hoping to create powerful mental health awareness campaigns, social listening can also help in identifying relevant hashtags. These can be used to reinforce the message whilst also being trackable to see how these hashtags are shared and posted, in order to be deployed more effectively. Social listening can allow for a more sophisticated understanding of how these organic conversations flow and, ultimately, help to identify core drivers that relate to mental health awareness.
Influencers can make it easier to effectively reach and resonate with a target audience while enriching your content and producing fast results. As many of us look up to influencers on social media, it’s proven that we are more likely to show interest and get involved if an influencer is heading up the campaign and contributing towards and supporting the movement.
Have you got a successful mental health campaign to share? Or are you looking for ways to create a powerful campaign to raise awareness of mental health? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn today.