Destigmatising mental health through social media

Normalising seeking therapy or medication as treatment has become important.

September 22, 2019 Inga Louisa Stevens

Social media has emerged as a platform for individuals to lead the way in bringing conversations about mental health into public online spaces. While the more negative affordances of social media are often emphasised, Arab Health Magazine spoke to Dr. Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of The LightHouse Arabia – Center for Wellbeing in Dubai, to find out about her thoughts on social media as a method for challenging mental health stigma in the region.

What role does social media play in destigmatising mental health issues in the Middle East?

Our region has a high number of social media users so using this platform to destigmatise mental health issues has been a key strategy of mine, as well as of the The LightHouse.

Educating people on symptoms of depression and anxiety and other disorders, demystifying what it looks like because people have an idea that depressed and anxious people hide under the covers all day, when in fact they are high functioning men and women and suffering in silence, and normalising seeking therapy or medication as treatment has been very important in the last few years.

We also have social media influencers who have been diagnosed and been in therapy also document their experience, which has helped to destigmatise mental health issues in the Middle East. However, we still have a long way to go.

Are there any risks associated with looking for mental health advice/ online?

The more anxious a person is and the more lost and confused they feel, the more literal and concrete they will become. This is why online advice can sometimes do harm because we have to see a problem and a person in context.

We have to be able to do a full biopsychosocial history of the person’s presenting problem to give them the most considered and thought-through treatment. To have the most accurate treatment, you need the most accurate diagnosis, and self-diagnosis is definitely not that.

Is it recommended that patients use online communication tools such as Skype to speak to their clinical psychologists?

Clinical psychologists will work with those who need counsel on life difficulties but also individuals who are presenting with moderate to severe symptoms of mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, suicidality, eating disorders, psychosis, to name a few.

If the person is not presenting with any clinical symptoms such as depression and anxiety, then it is okay to use Skype because there is no risk involved with the person becoming unstable or unravelled. If the person is presenting with clinical symptoms, and they are using Skype or Facetime with a psychologist who is not in the same city as them and their symptoms deteriorate over the course of therapy, the client is at risk of becoming destabilised without the care of a psychologist nearby to handle their care.  

We have to be able to do a full biopsychosocial history of the person’s presenting problem to give them the most considered and thought through treatment. To have the most accurate treatment, you need the most accurate diagnosis, and self-diagnosis is definitely not that."

Dr. Saliha Afridi

Have you seen an increase in patients reaching out to you online rather than making an appointment to see you in person?

Yes, we have had an increase in people requesting to do online sessions. Some people request online appointments due to the fact that they have a medical condition that limits them from coming into the clinic (e.g. bed rest, inability to travel), or because they live in another country.

However, we always request that they come in to meet us in person before we can have an online relationship with them. If they cannot come into the clinic, we may do a home visit to have the in-person contact. This is done to assess risk, as well as establish rapport.

We have social media influencers who have been diagnosed and been in therapy document their experience, which has helped to destigmatise mental health issues in the Middle East. However, we still have a long way to go.