Welcome to the Twittersphere – using social media to promote mental health tools

I have a confession. I have never logged onto Facebook. I don’t even have an account.  Given my propensity to promote the use of digital technology and my partiality to share a tweet or two these days, that may surprise you.  My instinctive resistance to the permanence and penetrance that comes with documenting life online via Social Media is still strong. My concern of invasion of privacy is even stronger now that I have two young children but, I have wholeheartedly fallen for the awesome power of Twitter.
I have been using Twitter for about the same length of time I have been working as RCGP Clinical Fellow in Perinatal Mental Health (PMH). PMH is a Clinical Priority for the RCGP from April 2014 to March 2017 and I feel Twitter has played a crucial role in the success of much of the work I have been involved with and will try to explain why.

The secret power underpinning Twitter’s massive uptake and continued popularity when other Social Media platforms may be losing their shine, in my view, is the invisible mining of intelligence from an individual’s usage data. Every tweet I send, every blog I read, extends a myriad map of my online persona and as a result, Twitter regularly suggests people that may be of interest to me. This then allows me to fairly effortlessly build a network of contacts who share something in common with me be it an interest in PMH or otherwise. This then allows further dialogue and debate, and brings with it the sociability that makes Twitter so enjoyable.

Twitter has introduced me to many impressive people who I may not have come across via conventional platforms and learning from their twitter activity has expanded my understanding of many areas of medicine, and life in general. Twitter also offers me a channel of communication with high profile figures without the usual formality and I feel it has done much to break down the perceived distance between GP leaders in their ivory towers, and grass-root GPs battling on the front line, who in truth are one and the same.

The PMH series on the E-learning for Health platform which the RCGP produced in conjunction with Health Education England has been live for several months and Twitter has helped share the link widely among a global online health community with some of my tweets having over 10,000 impressions.

The RCGP Perinatal Mental Health toolkit was put together by myself and Dr Louise Santhanam and launched on 22nd July 2016. Twitter was pivotal in finding the most diverse and interesting links for this free open access collection of over 300 resources. It also helped recruit GPs passionate about improving PMH into the RCGP Special Interest Group membership who reviewed the Toolkit as did many of the women with lived experience of PMH who I have met on Twitter during this time. These women are highly motivated to share their recovery narrative via blogs, vlogs or articles on Social Media including Twitter and have given me much insight into the challenges of living with PMH illness as well as the barriers they faced in disclosing symptoms to their GP.

Twitter discussion groups are increasingly popular and #MumTalk was one of the first the RCGP hosted, in conjunction with Sport Relief for World Maternal Health Day earlier this year. These forums allow professionals to discuss, debate and learn from each other, without the logistical challenges of childcare, transport or cost. Subsequent RCGP hosted Q&A Twitter sessions such as #mentalhealthGP have been popular and show an appetite for this type of innovative CPD forum.

The risks of using Social Media whether discussing cases of interest or engaging with non-professionals online about health matters are yet to be fully understood but caution is essential. It is easy to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation with traditional patient doctor boundaries less visible online. The RCGP Social Media Highway Code is a useful framework and highlights the principles of maintaining trust, confidentiality and respect are as important online, as they are in the consultation room.

So although some will use Twitter to complain about #scandalousqueuesinwaitrose or boast their culinary skills with #perfecteggsbenedict, I prefer to use Twitter to connect with other healthcare professionals, to share my work and learn from theirs, so fuelling my enthusiasm for life, and for my role in #teamGP.