Who usually comes to mind when you think of those at the frontline of mental health support? GPs, psychologists, counsellors? While they’re the most common, there’s another group that has unexpectedly joined the ranks - online influencers.
A new study of social media bloggers and vloggers reveals that those who have large, dedicated groups of fans, find themselves regularly supporting followers with mental health issues, ranging from depression to suicidal thoughts. What’s more, over two-fifths of those surveyed said this was adversely affecting their own mental health, and they were not equipped to offer such advice.
Influencers are increasingly having to adopt counselling roles without the necessary assistance and backing around them, and so in light of this, digital counselling service Minds For Life has developed a first of its kind free professional programme called First Listener to help ‘support the supporters.’
“As a mental health advocate on Instagram, I receive many messages daily from others (privately and publicly) sharing their mental health stories,” influencer Jo Love, founder of Lobella Loves, tells us. “People seem to feel more comfortable asking someone they know or follow on Instagram than their GP. This can lead to an enormous pressure to answer every question or comment and try and signpost them to the most appropriate channels or resources to help.”
Like many others in a similar position, Jo felt a duty to be there for her followers but the responsibility could be overwhelming and hard to manage at times. So much so in fact, that it recently led to her burning out and leaving Instagram temporarily to concentrate on her own mental health and recovery.
The First Listener package acts as a valuable first step towards equipping online influencers with the tools and techniques to call on when their work or personal time online takes an emotional toll. Features include one hour of video conferencing per month by a trained therapist and ad-hoc 1:1 messaging. “The purpose of the support package is to help influencers identify the boundary between offering peer-to-peer support to their community, and how important it is to direct their followers to professional resources,” explains Elaine Bousfield, co-founder of Minds For Life. “It also provides them with tools to create boundaries to protect their own mental health. For example, discussing the limits to confidentiality, safeguarding, resilience and self-care.”
In addition to the First Listener programme, Minds For Life also provides other resources to turn to. For example, Jo has found their app particularly helpful. “They’ve provided me with a counsellor through it who is providing me with much-needed support and professional guidance,” she tells us.
When it comes to providing those in positions of influence the professional support they need to help safeguard both their own and their followers’ mental wellbeing, the new service sounds like an encouraging stride in the right direction.