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100 Days on Twitter: A Psychologist’s Take on the Benefits of Social Media

I’ve been active on Facebook for about 7 years. I love keeping up with friends and family, sharing pictures and canstockphoto6433880updates, playing games, and all that stuff. A few years ago, I found LinkedIn and I’ve enjoyed networking to find connections with common professional interests.

But I never got into Twitter. Sure, I had signed up about 3 years ago and had looked around at news or celebrity feeds from time to time. But I had tweeted exactly four times and had just a handful of friends and family as followers.

Then I decided to give Twitter a real test drive. I tuned up my profile bio and headshot and entered the Twitterverse with a focus on mental health advocacy and recovery from mental illness and addiction. After all, I’m a clinical psychologist and that’s been my life’s work.

So for the past 100 days, I’ve been tweeting, retweeting, favoriting, following, unfollowing (just a little), direct messaging and trying to figure out just what I had gotten myself into. Meanwhile, I set up a personal website and started blogging about mental health at the rate of one new post per week.

So where am I now? After 100 days on Twitter, I have more than 1200 followers and am following about the same number of people. I’ve tweeted over 1500 times. I’ve written and shared 13 original blog posts about mental health recovery and advocacy. My followers represent about 40 US states and at least 30 different countries, on every continent except Antarctica (still looking for a connection there).

To say the experience has been fascinating is an understatement. What has really surprised me is how I’ve found several things about social media that I believe can be positive, beneficial and psychologically healthy. Let’s take a look at a few of these themes:

Meeting New People

Let’s not forget that social media is social. Imagine having 100 or more fascinating new people knock on your front door at all hours of the day every week and ask to come in for a cup of coffee. Well, that would be a lot of coffee, but think about all of the interesting folks you would meet. You probably invited (followed) quite a few, but some showed up without such an invitation. And don’t forget they showed up because they were interested in what you have to say.

Incredible Diversity

Now imagine that all these new people showing up on your doorstep aren’t just from your neighborhood, city, or state. They’re from all over the world. I’m pretty sure I never knew anyone from Mauritius or Togo before I got on Twitter. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit I had to Google those two locales to see where they were. For perhaps the first time ever, I’ve had conversations with people from many different countries and from all walks of life. Not only that, but many different cultures, ethnicities, languages, occupations, and interests have been represented.

Positive Reinforcement

It doesn’t take long to appreciate how social media offers almost instantaneous feedback, and 99.9% of it has been positive (I did encounter one snarky person so far). When someone favorites or retweets your tweet, it’s immediate reinforcement that your message is appreciated. Even more fun is when someone mentions you or sends you a direct message. (Side note: there is one dynamic that’s not very reinforcing which I still don’t totally understand. That would be the whole “unfollowing” thing, which seems akin to someone dropping by to say hello and then leaving without notice and with no plans to ever return.)

New Information

Once you begin to recover from meeting so many new people, you start to figure out they are tweeting out a steady stream of interesting content. There’s a huge volume of information on social media, but like anywhere else, some is better than others in terms of its accuracy and reliability. However, many reputable sources have an active presence and are constantly providing updates about new research and useful strategies to help people improve their physical and mental health.

Personal Courage

A significant number of the people I follow and my followers are individuals with the lived experience of mental illness or addiction. Many are also bloggers who tell their personal stories of challenge and recovery with great openness and courage. It’s certainly not easy to share some of your innermost thoughts and feelings with the rest of the world, and I truly admire and praise each of them for their inspiring and honest personal accounts.

Amazing Advocacy

Every cause under the sun has its heroes and advocates on social media. I started my own list of “mental health advocates” and am now approaching 200 members. To be included, the person’s tweets had to show a clear theme of promoting mental health and/or fighting stigma related to mental illness. Each time I added someone to the list, I tweeted them and let them know. It’s been gratifying to see most were quite pleased by this recognition and some had never thought of themselves as advocates before.

Moments of Wonder

There have been several unexpected moments of joy and wonder during my social media journey. I’ll cite just two. One occurred when reading the blog posts of an articulate young woman in Britain who has struggled with mental illness for years. Her hope, optimism and tenacity as she keeps working diligently on her recovery are moving and worth celebrating. The second moment occurred when I tweeted singer/dancer Paula Abdul to thank her for promoting National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Within moments, she tweeted her 2.3 million followers and mentioned me directly, saying “Thank you for constantly taking a stand. I appreciate you and you have my sincere gratitude.” I shared this exchange with my teenage daughter, who said, “Are you for real? You are kidding me, right?” She commented that her friends have been trying for years to get tweeted by a celebrity. I had to smile as I told her it only took me 20 minutes.

So, my 100-day Twitter experiment is over. Shall I continue with social media or is it time to sign off? Hmm, don’t think I’m quite done yet. So come on over for coffee anytime, and you don’t even need an invitation.

So, here’s a question: How has social media affected you in a positive way? Please leave a comment. Also, please consider subscribing to my blog to have each new post delivered to you automatically. Thanks!

Originally Posted to David Susman’s website on March 5th, 2015. Connect with David on Linkedin.

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