Debating mental health on YouTube
When is it okay for us to comment on the mental health of a public figure? The Verge asked me about this classic ethical dilemma and how it is playing out on the largely unregulated platform of YouTube. Here’s an excerpt:
“I absolutely hate that I have limitations on how many people I can see in a week, I hate the fact that it’s so hard to access quality mental health care and there are so many things that can get in the way of being able to see someone like me,” Mattu says. “It’s really meaningful to me to know that I am reaching out to people that might not otherwise be able to get any mental health support.”
The second layer consists of narrative videos from people with first-person experience of a particular mental illness. People who have mental illnesses often feel incredibly isolated, and the internet can be a good way to find advocates and those who can help guide the way, says John Naslund, a research fellow in global health and social medicine at Harvard University. His research has shown that online social media groups of all kinds can be valuable sites of peer support, especially for highly stigmatized conditions like schizophrenia.
At the same time, personal narratives can spread misinformation, often unintentionally. This usually happens when someone talks about a treatment that worked for them, but might not be supported by research. “There’s a difference between ‘I’m sharing my story because it’s my perspective,’ and ‘I’m on Zoloft and it’s the best thing ever,’” says Morton. “I think that’s where it muddies the waters and makes it a little bit more dangerous.”
Both Morton and Mattu think that if the platform provided a way to easily verify someone’s credentials, viewers could more easily identify the trustworthy sources. Still, it’s important not to remove the valuable personal narratives. “My field doesn’t ‘own’ mental health, that would be as ridiculous as saying that only physicians can talk about physical fitness,” says Mattu. “I don’t think it’s a topic that should only be limited to people who have spent an immense amount of years and have a lot of student debt studying it. But YouTube hasn’t quite figured out how to curate this content.”