In recent years, social media sites have tried to take a more active role in promoting mental health, with mixed results. Last year, Facebook launched a feature allowing users to report posts that appeared suicidal, and Instagram has tried—and failed—to ban searches of terms related to eating disorders.
The Manhattan-based blogging site Tumblr is taking a more discussion-oriented approach, encouraging everyone from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to first lady Chirlane McCray, an active Tumblr user, to engage with its dedicated user base in a space set aside to talk about mental health issues.
Advocates are posting "a ton of content," including research studies, resource links and videos on mental health issues, with the tag "Post It Forward," said a Tumblr spokeswoman. "We can make sure our audience sees it on their dashboards and it can live beside artwork from users."
Launched in May 2015, "Post It Forward" was originally intended as a summerlong campaign, but it has evolved into a permanent page on the site. There, verified mental health resources can get buried among affirmations in the form of animated GIFs, but there is also a link to a less cluttered page of resources. To date, Tumblr has counted 16,000 posts tagged to "Post It Forward."
"The stuff I can write on Tumblr, I can't just post on Facebook or Instagram," said Nina Vega, 20, who attended an in-person gathering at Tumblr's Manhattan headquarters earlier this week for the virtual community. The event included workshops led by the city's Health Department and various advocacy groups. Vega, who has been using the site since she was 16, said Tumblr is a "safe haven on the internet" for discussing topics such as mental health and sexuality, which can draw negative comments or be visible to family members on other social media platforms.
The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ crisis intervention group with offices in New York and Los Angeles, tries to reach youth on any social media site they're using, said Amit Routh, senior manager of peer support programs at the organization. It also has its own carefully monitored online discussion forum. He noted that Tumblr has long had a naturally occurring online community of LGBTQ youth.
"There's a general supportiveness around mental health on Tumblr I don't really see on other websites," he said.
Tumblr, like Instagram, draws a younger audience which appeals to NAMI, a group that has an older member base, said Ryann Tanap, the organization's social media manager. Although the group has been engaging with people on social media for years, it first created her position in April in an effort to formulate a more streamlined approach to online outreach, said Tanap.
Often, the organization uses social media channels to promote its own awareness events or share people's recovery stories, Tanap added. "Depending on what it sounds like people are looking for, we'll refer them to resources," including their local NAMI chapters, she said. "If people are in crisis, we encourage them to dial 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline."
Pearl, a vocal attendee at the workshops Tuesday who declined to give her last name, said she appreciates the "you're not alone" vibe of "Post It Forward." But, she added, there's one key thing people with chronic mental health issues don't get on Tumblr, or even through the advocates the site is working with: help navigating the byzantine ins and outs of health insurance.
"The idea of sharing stories is really important and would have saved me a lot of suffering as a kid," said Pearl. "But we need a space for skill-sharing that should be created by advocates and not insurance companies."
"Tumblr tackles mental health issues" was originally published in Crain's New York Business.