AMA on Wed 5/27/20: How Mental founders - mental health advocacy and social media organization

Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) on Wed May 27 from 11am-12pm PT

We are excited to announce that George Taktak and Mark Anscombe, co-founders of How Mental are joining us all the way from the UK as special guests to do an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) on Wed May 27 from 11am-12pm PT. How Mental is a well-known advocacy organization and social media presence in mental health.

George Taktak, Founder

George has been with How Mental from the beginning.
He turned is passion for mental wellbeing into one of the largest communities for positive mental health out there.
George is passionate about the potential for mental wellbeing to radically realign society with what we care for most, and technology’s ability to catalyse this change.
George is the founder of Feeliom, an app designed to care for your wellbeing by staying in touch with yourself and your loved ones.

Mark Anscombe, Co-Founder

Mark met George in 2019 and did not hesitate to throw himself into How Mental.
He has been working or volunteering in mental health since 2013, with a focus on giving individuals supportive spaces to open up about their mental health.
Mark is the founder of Perspective Project, a charity tackling mental health stigma through art and creativity.

Topics they can speak to:

  1. Lived experience of anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies and trauma.
  2. Changing the narrative around mental health - starting our own movement. What you can do to contribute to the broader movement.
  3. How to prioritise your mental wellbeing - proactive care and prevention.
  4. Mental Health & Technology.
  5. Mental Health & Art.

We are very lucky to have George and Mark and are grateful for their time. We’re posting this thread early to field questions, so fire away! Please add any questions you have to this thread and stay tuned for the actual event – Wed May 27 from 11am-12pm PT.

Format: George and Mark will post written answers to questions/comments directly on this thread during the event time.

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this is really neat!

how do you think young people can get more involved with mental health advocacy?

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what tips do you have for self-care during the era of COVID?

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Thanks for doing this. I’m curious specifically about what I’ve noticed regarding shifting narratives among young people and pop culture and mental health. For example, more and more celebrities and influencers are being transparent about mental health struggles. In hip-hop and rap, there is a strong trend towards rapping about mental health struggles and coping mechanisms. Some very popular artists have built careers on providing young people music that shows they are not alone.

  • Do you see this as a real trend or is this still a small subset? Are we making good progress towards de-stigmatization?
  • What is the role of media in creating a new narrative around mental health. Media, film, music, social, communities, etc.
  • How do we include older people to create an intergenerational dialogue?

I think people are increasingly seeing that social media can be detrimental to mental health. HowMental is active on instagram which is great but I think insta is a good example of how social media can make some people quite unhappy. how do you think about changing the role of social media for personal wellbeing, especially for adolescents who face tremendous pressures exacerbated by social media? how do we create social media for good and for mental health rather than mental anguish?

If you are comfortable sharing, what has your personal improvement in mental health looked like throughout your life? Do you experience “relapsing” in unhealthy coping mechanisms, and how do you deal with that? How would you advise other people in terms of that?

How do you both feel about the idea that technology has made us much lonelier than before? How can technology be used to combat loneliness instead?

Separate question: what do you think are the to-be-expected effects that covid-19 will have or has already had on mental health? Some mental health advocates have compared what we are experiencing during this time to the feeling of grief – how would you assess this comparison?

thank you both so much for doing this! I’m curious to learn about where we can see an intersection between technology and mental health.

what’re your thoughts on AI-assisted mental health care and do you think we should be taking more steps to include technology into mental health care? If so, what types of technology?
do you think that artificial intelligence can help solve the mental health crisis? why or why not?

I’m very curious about this and I’d love to hear anyone (George and Mark for sure, but anyone else too) chime in –

Cancer has been framed as such an emotional, public disease. As discussed in Siddartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, a lot of politics and public relations and fundraising and publicity went into crafting cancer as this disease that had to be fought. We use words like “fight” and the famous “war on cancer.” A fascinating historical arc has led us to this day and age where everyone wants to help cure cancer and it’s seen as a sad terrible thing. A ton of funding has poured into oncology research and people/insurance are willing to pay outrageously high prices for small (if any) extensions of lifespan.

Whereas in mental health, we still have stigma, lack of funding, silence and shame, lack of insurance coverage, etc. Mental health conditions are just as ancient as cancer (described in ancient texts) and they both suck. For both it’s no one’s fault. Yet obviously very different historical trajectories. Where did we go wrong in mental health? How do we reframe the problem to do what cancer advocates did in the last 40 years? How do we get to the point where we accept things like depression or anxiety or PTSD or eating disorders or ADHD like we do for cancer?

For people who have never prioritized improving their mental health and don’t know where to start, what resources would you recommend?

Hey guys!! so excited to be here.

Here’s our verification!

George: Love this question! I think mental health advocacy doesn’t come from simply shouting about mental health. It comes from making mental health a priority for yourself. Ultimately, once you do that and someone asks you “how are you doing today?” as a person who’s aware of their mental health - you’re unlikely to answer with just fine (circumstance pending) you may be more likely to express how you really feel. At which point, mental health advocacy becomes a part of your nature. To that effect, creating as many touchpoints as possible in your daily life e.g. on social media ehem How Mental :wink: will certainly help.

In terms of more active involvement, we get a LOT of people asking us about starting their own initiatives, which is great! I think corralling schools into prioritising the mental health of their students is fantastic.

Mark: The key thing about the COVID era, or quarantine or #lockdownlife is to go easy on yourself. There’s so much in the media and online about being productive, learning a new skill, embracing the new normal… and sure, this works for some. For many (perhaps most), this is a time of extreme uncertainty, hardship, turbulence and loss. It’s okay not to be learning a language, picking up the guitar, or getting fit. Be kind to yourself, be mindful of your mental health, and support yourselves and others through this weird time.

Personally, I am trying to exercise regularly (the gym is closed, so i’ve had to go a bit more natural), not drink too much during the week (Google autotyped “during the day” when I typed this sentence, which is perhaps a more honest assessment) and accept the fact that I am not as productive working from home as I am in the office.

It seems to me that psychedelic medicine almost has a double stigma - mental health and psychedelics. Ketamine is a great example. How do we combat this double stigma within the healthcare system specifically? Or should we start outside the healthcare system first?

Do you see this as a real trend or is this still a small subset? Are we making good progress towards de-stigmatization?
Mark: I definitely think this is a real trend - but that’s not to say it’s as mainstream as it needs to be. Mental health is still massively stigmatised across society. In the UK, US and other more progressive nations, the conversation is beginning to transcend age groups and social demographics. In the UK, our royal family are being open and vocal about mental health - which is a great indicator of the progress being made. It is crucial that organisations and advocates don’t slow down - there is a long way to go, and tangible discrimination still exists (for example in the workplace and in healthcare provision)

What is the role of media in creating a new narrative around mental health. Media, film, music, social, communities, etc.
Mark: Media has always been an important force in both shaping narratives, and responding to and reflecting the zeitgeist. This definitely works both ways. Negative or inaccurate portrayals of mental health can seriously damage public understanding and empathy. For example, the portrayal of schizophrenia as a condition characterised by split personality and violence is completely inaccurate and creates a huge amount of stigma for people experiencing this debilitating disorder. On the flip side, sympathetic and accurate portrayals of mental health - whether based on true stories or otherwise - can give some people their first, or most impactful, view of an individual going through mental illness. Increasing understanding and awareness, as well as sympathy and acceptance, can and needs to be achieved through the media.

How do we include older people to create an intergenerational dialogue?
Mark: It can be easy to slip into seeing a generational divide that isn’t so clear cut. You will find plenty of older people who have experienced, understand, or empathize with mental health experiences. Similarly, it is too ambitious and naive to believe that the younger generations are enlightened. The teaching of mental health is still not embedded enough into mainstream education. Younger generations are far more likely to be aware of mental health, but awareness does not always lead to understanding or informed behaviour. It is crucial that messaging around mental health is universal. Everyone has mental health, and everyone can experience mental illness - regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or any other characteristic.

George: This is something I’m super passionate about. Personally, I’ve done a lot of research into social media <> mental health. I believe that on the platforms that currently exist, we should try to shine as much light through the darkness. Yes, these platforms are built for addictive and generally speaking, unhealthy behaviour. But they are the main space where people communicate at this moment in time.

Moving forward, we can create safer spaces for people to stay in touch that are built with their wellbeing in mind. That’s what I’ve been working on for the past 5 years through a mobile app called Feeliom. No likes. No followers. No advertisers. Our focus is purely on empowering people to express emotions, connect with their support network and maintain mental wellbeing. Download it, check it out and let me know what you think. It’s just the first version right now, so all feedback is welcome!!

George: My mental health has been through phases. When I was younger, I had a pretty traumatic upbringing with an abusive parent. I rebelled…a lot. And have had problems getting into intimate relationships because of it. Trusting other people hasn’t always been easy. My coping mechanisms for pain and loneliness have tended towards food, drugs and work. All of which could be consumed in moderation, but obviously I did not! I was starting to do quite well (at least I thought I was) until I started my own business. Entrepreneurship is HARD. It’s been shown they are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than the general population and, when working in mental health entrepreneurship it’s particularly hard because most people look at you like you’re crazy (pun intended). So, I became depressed and eventually suicidal. The love and support shown by my family is ultimately what saved me. But it still took a year for me to start loving myself. Even now, I’m still recovering. During this crisis, I’ve been pushed back into thinking of suicide. The difference is now I have a support system in place including a psychoanalyst that I talk to every day and I talk to people openly about my feelings so they know when I need help. I also take breaks for my mental health #mentalhealthdays. It’s one of the few luxuries of working for myself. The key is accepting how you’re feeling and understanding it as opposed to repressing.

Mark: I don’t always subscribe to this narrative that we are less mentally healthy and lonelier than ever before. In one sense, the ‘rise’ of mental illness (of which loneliness can be a key cause) may simply be a case of better reporting and understanding. In the past, suicide was extremely taboo (far more than now, although it still is a heavily stigmatised and misunderstood topic) and will have been massively undereported due to social and religious pressures. Similarly, we understand far more about mental health, we are far better at gathering data, and far better at diagnosing conditions than ever before. Specifically regarding loneliness and tech: it works both ways. I can communicate with my friends from uni, many of whom live across the atlantic in Canada. We have a fantasy football league, we can share pictures, video call, and keep up with each others lives. On the flipside, I have spent far too many evenings browsing social media or in a YouTube video spiral than I’d like to admit to, when I perhaps could have been out actually talking to people…

On your question about COVID:
*** Mark: Grief, or perhaps more usefully ‘loss’, may well be an apt way of describing the impact of covid-19. We have lost a huge amount: our freedom of movement, the ability to see our loved ones, many will have lost loved-ones to the disease. Some will be out of work (in the UK many are furloughed, meaning they are being paid but aren’t allowed to do any work at all… which may sound good on paper, but has its own host of problems). All of us have lost a way of life that we thought was secure and inviolable. I would be** surprised if grief was far from the conversation.

George: You’re welcome! I work at the intersection of tech and mental health so LOVE this. Technology is a tool. It helps us to become more efficient and deliver support at scale. We should definitely be taking more steps to include it in mental healthcare. Unfortunately, regulation slows the process down but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. All technology can help. AI thrives on data and has the power to help us predict and prevent mental health problems. In mental health, there is a LOT of data missing. Most people speak to their therapists in person/on the phone. They have long breaks between their sessions. [These problems cut across the board for most standard mental health solutions.] And so this can make AI’s role pretty mute. However, as we come up with more strategies to help people with their mental health through technology, more datapoints will arise and AI will play a HUGE role in the future of mental health. Put simply, we as people are better at the creative and management side of things, but there’s a lot of processing to be done. Without technology, we’re wasting a lot of time and energy - and ultimately putting people’s lives at risk. We have to change the narrative around tech and mental health. Bringing them together in a safe way could even open more people up to the idea of better understanding their own mental health. I.e. Tech as a democratiser and normaliser. The future for this is very exciting!