World Mental Health Day: Social media is full of advice and experts, but what are they worth?

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Anxiety, depression and other mental disorders are becoming less taboo thanks to awareness campaigns like World Mental Health Day. But perhaps the biggest effort to end the stigma has taken place on social media.

On Reddit, the world’s best-known online forum, the depression-focused community has over 900,000 members, while the anxiety disorders community has over 500,000 users.

On these thematic forums, or “subreddits”, people share the achievements of which they are proud: succeeding in going to a restaurant alone or having a job interview, for example. These are often very strenuous tasks for someone with social anxiety. Beneath their posts are hundreds of congratulatory comments.

In another message, a user share a technique to prevent panic attacks: “Start by saying 5 things you can see around you, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Even reasoning, helps me calm down and distract me from what makes me anxious”.

This method was developed by the American clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, who also provided her with Instagram tips in the form of questions and answers.

Anxiety disorders and depression are among the most common mental health disorders, but there are also communities dedicated to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder Where dissociative identity disorder.

Mental health “influencers”

On TikTok, #MentalHealth posts accumulate nearly 50 billion views. On Instagram, there are more than 40 million posts. Some personalities are so followed that they could be called “influencers” when it comes to mental health.

It’s a trending topic, but it covers a wide range of content, from testimonials to tips, and sometimes even “wellness” product placements.

Professor Viviane Kovess-Masféty, a child psychiatrist and researcher at Paris Descartes University, urges social media users to take this advice online with a grain of salt.

“There is a whole school of ‘self-help’, that is to say people who take charge of themselves, who discuss among themselves and exchange advice. This should not be confused with psychotherapy, which is something different,” she told Euronews Next.

But there are decent materials and debates online that might help some people, she concedes.

“There’s a whole world of self-administered cognitive therapies, of information about not-too-serious disorders that you can manage on your own,” she said.

“There are a number of very serious sites that try to help people to self-manage or even discussion groups where people encourage each other. The important thing is to understand who you are dealing with”.

Know your experts

It is important to know the real background and the skills of the interlocutor, she adds: nurses and doctors are qualified health professionals, while the titles of “coach” or “expert” cover a much more blurred reality where those who provide advice do not necessarily have qualifications.

It is also important to have an idea of ​​the field of expertise of the different health professionals and “influencers”.

For example, Dr. Colleen Reichmann, active on instagram and ICT Tacis an American psychologist specializing in eating disorders.

Other accounts are more specialized in stress management or family relationships.

It’s important to do your homework on these people’s backgrounds and perhaps read their research using Google Scholar, the academic search engine.

Overcoming barriers to mental health care

Social networks have a key advantage: they are accessible anytime, anywhere. Accessing mental health professionals in real life is more complicated — and the financial cost of therapy can be a big deterrent to those seeking help.

In Italy, a survey published last December by the National Board of Psychologists revealed that one in five patients had ended their psychotherapy for financial reasons – and more than a quarter of those who would like to undergo therapy do not do so because they can’t afford it.

In France, people can now benefit from up to seven psychotherapy sessions for just €30 each (about half their normal price) thanks to a new post-pandemic public program called “MyPsy” which also sees private health insurance participate.

The advice can be done remotely, except for the first consultation which costs 40 €.

Kovess-Masféty, the professor, noted that psychotherapy lends itself particularly well to telemedicine. But that does not mean that it can be replaced by any type of online support.

“Therapy means treatment. Let me be very clear: someone who is not trained as a therapist cannot treat,” she said.

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