Stanford University
Center for Innovation in
Global Health  

Guest Post: The Power of the Media: Using Social Networking and Ad Campaigns to Combat Stigma

Posted 6:56 AM, February 28, 2012, by Joyce Ho

social media advertising.pngFor all the hype about “Facebook Depression” and social media causing problems with youth despondency or self-image issues, media has a tremendous power to influence young people through what may be their primary mode of socialization: the internet.
Violent video games, “sexting,” and explicit music aside, technology is quite possibly the single most powerful tool for bringing positive change to youth today. Most kids spend more time using media each week than they would working a full time job, so it should be no surprise that the new battleground for promoting wellness, mental health, and appropriate self-care should be within the world of technology.

Positive Tools for Change

Many activist groups and outreach organizations have already seen the potential for reaching young people through the internet, television, and music. They have responded by building interactive networks, information databases, live chat rooms, edgy ad campaigns, and social momentum for their efforts online.
Campaigns such as To Write Love on Her Arms sponsor concerts, create graphic tees, and work hard to make college and high school students feel that suffering from depression or other mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of; they encourage early and frequent help, and they are building a youth-friendly network of hip team members and young people to be their voice.

To Write Love on Her Arms, along with groups like Bring Change 2 Mind and the Hopeline’s Pick Up the Phone tour, is reaching out in every way it knows how – including Facebook, internet ad campaigns, YouTube videos, Twitter, storytelling campaigns at high schools around the country, and national fundraising efforts. These groups are revolutionizing the way young people think about and access information on mental health issues. Organizations with similar missions include the Trevor Project (for LGBTQ youth), the Post Secret Community (for anonymous discussions), Youth Move National (for youth-led advocacy), and In Our Own Voice (for public education).

Why Young People Need Positive Media

Because teenagers and college students are at higher risk for developing eating disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, and other mental health issues during this phase of their lives than at almost any other time, effective communication is essential. For decades, the stigma surrounding mental health problems led to undiagnosed illnesses, millions of individuals suffering in silence, and thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Communicating with young people in the way that is most familiar to them is not just useful for breaking through stereotypes and stigma, it is also essential to helping kids find help as quickly and easily as possible. After all, where do teens turn when they have questions about their feelings? What tools do they use to find out if their emotions are normal or healthy? How do they express themselves?

They turn to internet search engines, they read online articles about symptoms and health, and they use social networking sites and chat rooms to talk about their problems. If the media has nothing helpful to offer when youths seek private assistance for their problems, the stigma will continue.

The media’s opportunity to break down significant mental health treatment barriers and stigma is growing even as you read this. If websites, advocacy groups, counseling lines, and health organizations rise to the digital challenge, they could build a generation of young people who are not embarrassed about the practicality of good mental hygiene or seeking help.

The efforts of some of the organizations listed above have already gone a long way to opening the discussion about mental health to young people. If the media play their cards right, mental illness can be stripped of its stigma to reveal what it is at its core: a health problem that should be addressed quickly and competently, just like any other illness would be.

With the help of bloggers, parents, Twitter-gurus and Facebook fans, donors, and news media, online mental health resources can become an effective go-to resource for young people. So do your part by choosing an organization to support with all your social media might – and know that by joining the online movement to promote mental health, you just may be helping your own child or friend.

Katie Brind’Amour is a health and wellness writer and Certified Health Education Specialist. She has a Masters in Biology and is currently pursuing her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy. She is certified in Mental Health First Aid and enjoys blogging about friendship and life in the not-so-fast lane in her spare time.


I visited Singapore and found especially kids and school going children are very much used to mobiles and tablets. Even in trains and buses they look like human robots, they do not talk rather discussion and commenting on Facebooks. They are completely in a different virtual world. Do not know what is the next results for them.

Comment by: Kallol at March 4, 2012 7:19 PM

As a mother of a teenager,who, at the moment, seems mentally very stable, I am thrilled to read about this approach to kids and teens to reach them in the manner they are most comfortable with...using technology.

Seems so many young lives are taken too soon because of mental issues that overtake the person's ability to handle it.

I also agree with you that the more exposure mental health issues are given the less likely there will be a stigma attached to them so that more people who suffer with these conditions will likely seek help sooner rather than later or not at all.

Comment by: How to Relieve Stress at March 6, 2012 6:24 AM

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