Many objections to the theory that social media promotes an environment for mental illnesses to thrive arise when the topic of health advocacy is proposed. Undoubtedly, one of the most popular ways to communicate in this modern age is through social networking. These outlets allow for the rapid diffusion of all sorts of information. So, while many students suffering from a mental illness may not actively seek out professional help, many are expressing their inner emotions on social media. Some may argue that social media provides health professionals with the opportunity to reach a broad audience for education and advocacy purposes. “Given the high percentage of students using social media,” according to a journal published on OMICS International, “it seems time for college mental health professionals to catch up and become part of their virtual world” (Seidel, Ethan, Basch 1). Many counseling centers and mental health professions are already using these techniques at liberty; scheduling tweets to be sent out when specialists are out of the office and utilizing apps like Instagram to share charts and graphics with the public. This could provide an incredible opportunity for counseling centers to expand their footprint onto the virtual world and reach out to students who are unwilling or unable to ask for professional help in person.
On the contrary, while there are certainly astonishing benefits associated with this change, there come many downfalls and concerns; specifically regarding confidentiality and liability. Although guidelines continue to evolve and match up with our current technological state, patient confidentiality is always an issue to keep in mind with the birth of a new educational platform. Any data posted online has the potential to violate the rules of HIPAA, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The primary goal of this law, enacted in 1996, is to secure and protect patients’ healthcare information across all boards. One wrong move could place a physician organization at risk for legal matters.
Following protocol, healthcare professionals are not allowed to post pictures of patients or refer to them by name, and should be strictly aware that what they publish online could be severely misconstrued by anyone who sees it. According to an article published in Current Psychiatry Reports: Psychiatry in the Digital Age, “it is not always what we personally post that may cause difficulty, as postings by others on our site may be viewed as unprofessional” (Peek 7). It is essential, therefore, that physicians unmistakably follow these guidelines not only to preserve the confidentiality of personal patient information, but also to maximize their goal of improving care and mental health advocacy. This is not an easy task. The AMA specifically addresses these complications by saying that physicians must be acutely aware that anything they post online, “may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, may have consequences for their medical careers… and can undermine public trust in the medical profession” (Peek 7).
Send Silence Packing is a nationwide event organized by Active Minds; set in place to promote suicide awareness and prevention. Chapter president Andrea Nguyen explains why this exhibit is so impactful for the students of VCU, and reminds us that we are not alone.
Many non-profit organizations dedicated to raising mental health awareness do extraordinarily well organizing events and talks on college campuses, and several of those programs were devised and conceived by college undergraduates. Active Minds, in specific, was founded by Alison Malmon during her junior year of college at The University of Pennsylvania, following the suicide of her older brother, Brian. Her once trivial idea has turned into the voice of young adults nationwide; with more than 400 campus chapters. Just recently, Richmond’s chapter of Active Minds organized an event at Virginia Commonwealth University – backpacks scattered across the campus lawn, representing the 1,100 college students who commit suicide every year. Handwritten stories were attached to each one. I wholeheartedly believe that organizations built from the ground up, who continue to bring endless inspiration to the lives surrounding them, are so much more beneficial to the mental health community than any educational blog, chart, or graph could display.