OPINION: Cllr John Sheridan on positive social media and mental health during Covid-19 crisis


Donard McCabe


Donard McCabe

OPINION: Cllr John Sheridan on positive social media and mental health during Covid-19 crisis

OPINION: Cllr John Sheridan on positive social media and mental health during Covid-19 crisis

Positive social media is part of the fight against coronavirus, let’s not make mental health an unintended victim in the process. By John Sheridan

In the past fortnight the mental health of literally all of Ireland has been turned on its head in the face of the fight against covid-19. At first, there was probably a originality to the new situation but post St Patrick’s day reality set in that this isn’t like a red weather alert, this is going to be so much different.

There are so many things causing strain on the mental health of every single family in the country: the unknown of a global pandemic, the fear and emotion around the health of family and friends, the financial earthquake which has seen hundreds of thousands suddenly out of work. 

There are the other stresses too: the panic shopping, being confined to our homes, children being out of their school routine, not being able to visit our parents and older relatives, workers trying to work from home and the lack of any social or recreational activities.

Added onto that is the relentlessness of hearing about covid-19 on media and social media, because frankly, that is what is consuming everyone. The ping of yet another notification to our phones is followed by the dreaded thought of ‘what now’. 

Social media is an incredibly powerful resource. It is an unprecedented ability to catch the mood, but also gets messages out quickly when needed. Positive social media is part of the fight against coronavirus, but let’s not make mental health the unintended victim of it in the process. 

So far social media has by and large been a force for good in the face of covid-19. It has allowed information to be freely shared, allowed the HSE provide information in a quick and timely manner. It also showed huge responsibility as people appealed to friends and followers to stop panic buying. 

Some videos of pubs and bars being packed evoked a mass sense that things needed to change and proactively bars started closing, North and South as it became clear people were moving ahead of what was being asked of them. 

That said, we seem to have reached a point whereby on one hand we are rightly lauding those involved in the fight against Coronavirus -  in particularly the health care professionals - but on the other hand we are now engaging in trial by social media in an ever evolving and delicate situation. 

There is one clear source of direction and advice that is the Chief Medical officer and the HSE. This expert advice is then correctly communicated through the government and trusted news sources. Social media is of course part of that process too, but it appears to have had conflicting results. 

“Good morning everyone, except those queuing for chips in Howth” was one message I read. I even saw Minister Simon Harris post a late-night tweet which clearly had a tone of exasperation to it, which was out of step with the calm measured communication on Coronavirus we now associate with him. 

Just over a month ago, Caroline Flack died tragically. Her death resulted in an epiphany of people saying it should be a new start for social media and that we ought to “be kind” to one another. 

Every year hundreds of thousands in Ireland put their efforts into supporting mental health charity Pieta House through the Darkness into Light event. Most participants post on social media that they attend the event.  

Huge steps have been taken in recent years to change the narrative around mental health and suicide for people to talk more, to exercise more and to seek help if they need it.

Huge work has been done on calling out bullying in schools and workplaces and putting in guidelines and regulations to allow victims seek resolutions. Online social media platforms are adult playgrounds and the same rules should apply to it.

Right now in the face of a huge global pandemic, we have a fight to physically fight the virus as a world; but also we have to ensure that in the process of hopefully “flattening the curve” that we don’t cause such a culture that the online audience is judge and jury on what we should do next and issue judgements which may be at odds with expert public health advice. 

I don’t have a medical qualification, but I’m of the view 95 percent of success in the public engagement on this issue will be about public buy in and engagement and the rest is actually about enforcement from state agencies.

Public Buy-in does not come from lecturing anybody in person or online. Education and clear consistent messaging are what creates public buy-in and gets us results. If enforcement is needed thereafter then so be it. 

As the days go by and as emotions get tested more and more in this unprecedented situation, there will no doubt be tougher, and we get used to more severe restrictions in coming weeks.

It is a tough emotional time for everyone. The fear of the unknown feeds so much anxiety in all of us. “Stick to the facts” is probably a phrase we need to all use more when we are anxious and also when on social media.

So perhaps, the next time you go to tweet a picture or post a comment think about it twice. Will making that post actually add to the prevention or add to the panic?

Is your message going to make yourself or anyone else more informed as to the facts or is it simply a momentary release of frustration? Finally, and most importantly, does your post on social media contradict the official advice of those trusted and qualified to inform us about what we have been asked to do?.

And finally, stay safe but #BeKind in the process to protect everyone from Covid-19 but also from damaging mental health in the process.