I NEED TO TALK STATUS
How might we crowdsource mental support in the new normal?
As the global community confronts the pandemic and its implications — social isolation, economic hardship, loss of loved ones — Facebook has a unique opportunity to support the mental wellbeing of populations in need. Mental health providers are reporting a surge in patients seeking treatment over coronavirus-related concerns. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45 percent of adults believe stress associated with the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health; 36 percent of Americans told the American Psychiatric Association that the virus has had a serious impact on their mental health; and 31 percent of respondents to a PiplSay poll reported sleeping less because of coronavirus-related anxiety.
For so long, the Facebook platform has served as a space for people to come together during good times, as well as during hardships. In the midst of this global crisis, we see an opportunity for Facebook to be viewed as not only helping to connect us but also having a meaningful and positive impact on our individual lives.
Building on the success of Facebook’s Community Help feature — which has encouraged users to offer, search for, and receive help in the wake of a crisis— Facebook can add a feature to its Messenger app to help users in need crowdsource therapeutic support.
Understanding that instances of mild depression and anxiety can be helped by finding a supportive, if not formally licensed, ear, the “I need to talk” status would allow users to connect with people around the world to jointly overcome feelings of isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty. Users could opt to identify specific topics on their mind, such as health and wellness, loneliness, trauma, friendship, or general anxiety, and set parameters around the desired visibility of their status (within or beyond their friend groups). This option may be particularly appealing to individuals unable to afford therapy, those seeking a higher level of anonymity prior to engaging with a counselor, or people just simply in need of connection during difficult times.
The Foreseeable Impact
The “I need to talk” status would fill an important gap in Facebook’s current functionality: while the platform makes it easy for users to mark themselves “safe” after man-made, accidental, and natural disasters, it does not yet offer users the option to indicate they are “unsafe” or “struggling.” Enhancing the Messenger app in this way would create new avenues for global connectivity and put Facebook in the important role of de-stigmatizing asking for help. Pending user reception to the feature, later iterations could involve partnerships with frontline hospital workers, psychologists, and NGOs to help connect high-risk users with professional support.