Expert Voices

For Mental Health, Social Media Removes the Silence (Op-Ed)

Social Media Swirl
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Brian Dyak is president, CEO and co-founder of the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC), and executive producer of Carolyn Lukensmeyer is executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and a founder and past president of AmericaSpeaks. Lukensmeyer formerly served as Consultant to the White House Chief of Staff from 1993-1994 and was Chief of Staff to Ohio Governor Richard Celeste from 1986 to 1991. The authors contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

Social media was at first considered unique, then accepted, and now it's pervasive in our culture, with an unheralded capability to foster communication and empower people. More recently, that power is being turned towards mental health. It's a topic Americans rarely talk about, and the silence can literally cost lives. Young people in particular are most affected, with most mental health problems — nearly three quarters of those reported — emerging before age 24, according to a study by researchers at Harvard Medical School. Now, thousands of people are breaking through the silence to discuss this issue in peer-created support communities with instant, digital access to experts — building those communities has been as simple as Text, Talk, Act.

Creating Community Solutions first launched Text, Talk, Act in December 2013, combining texting, social media and face-to-face conversation to give young people the information and confidence they need to talk about mental health. Right now across the country, people are using the text messaging platform to start conversations and find resources for their own mental wellness, and to learn how to help friends in need. These brave people are ending the silence and taking to social media to encourage others to talk about a too-long unspoken subject. 

The effort brings together the partners of the Text, Talk, Act movement, including the Entertainment Industries Council, the University of Arizona National Institute for Civil Discourse, Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, and others — they are bridging technology with science and opening communication channels to elevate awareness. It's the power of media , in this case social media, to encourage help-seeking behavior.

Finding help

What would you do if someone you knew was in need and help was only a text away? Recent research provides some guidance. The study — from the Empowerment Initiative at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL), and the Born This Way Foundation — included an online survey of 2,645 young people aged 13 to 25. 

The researchers found that preferred methods of mental health service delivery varied widely based on age, gender, sexual orientation and levels of anxiety or depression. Among the most important findings? Compared with older demographics, younger participants preferred to seek help through online and text-based platforms instead of face-to-face interactions. 

The current version of Text, Talk, Act was shaped by the ideas submitted by that community and the enthusiastic response to the platform supports the UNL findings. During a recent Text, Talk, Act event, 1,283 phone lines — representing nearly 5,000 people — were engaged in communicating about mental wellness. Participants entered the conversation through texting and social media, and stayed to have face-to face-dialogues. That particular even went viral, generating 4.2 million impressions of #TextTalkAct on social media. 

Perhaps it's the simplicity, perhaps it's the anonymity, perhaps it's the fact that digital interaction has been engrained in younger generations' communication protocols nearly all their lives, perhaps it’s something altogether different — but whatever the reason, this approach provides one more tool to reach a vulnerable population in a way that is comfortable and could help save lives. 

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Extending the reach

Youth organizers and youth organizations (such as Active MindsYouth Move National, and Born This Way Foundation) have stepped up to spread the word and organize "Text Talk Events" on college campuses and in high schools around the country. These organizers are creative, motivated, courageous and forthright in bringing thoughts about mental health into a vibrant dialog and potentially life-changing conversations. 

The Entertainment Industries Council and other partners are supporting these young people and encouraging them to make their voices heard by sharing #TextTalkAct, spreading awareness of a related PSA series, and working with people in entertainment and news media to make communication about mental wellness commonplace. The message is emerging: It's OK to talk about mental health. Ultimately, paired with EIC's TEAM Up movement to reduce the stigma and discrimination around mental health challenges, Text, Talk, Act and the public will drive a broad change in attitude and behavior. [The Power of Hashtag: Using Social Media to Raise Awareness (Op-Ed )]

Join this innovative conversation through the month of November, and be part of the change to end the silence on mental illness. Just grab a smartphone, a few friends and text START to 89800.

More video on issues of mental health and other topics are available at Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on FacebookTwitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.

Humane Society of the United States