There are pros and cons to social media. Those who vilify it are concerned about the impact on body image and some believe that deleting social media accounts may even make them feel happier. Others enjoy social media and use it as a tool to stay connected to long distance friends.
A recent study found that one social media channel, Pinterest, an image sharing site, is a source of support for people living with chronic pain. Analyzed pins reflected supportive content, both informational and educational, indicating this is a positive, helpful resource for patients. Mental health and social media professionals were invited to comment on the potential positive impact of social media participation on this channel.
Adina Mahalli, MSW, a mental health professional recognizes that while Pinterest is a commercial enterprise, "the easy accessibility of [it] and the quick-fix features it provides, offers the potential of short-term relief for their mental health issues, supplying a form of social support for those who need it.” This is a similar benefit as telehealth solutions, a resource for people who otherwise may not receive support, whether in rural areas or who may not travel. Mahalli believes that social media platforms might have a place in temporarily relieving mental health stressors, but “they can in no way provide long-term management”.
Megan Zaleski, offered her insight as a social media professional. She sees an advantage of Pinterest over other channels for social support. "While platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter's primary function is to engage in discussion and garner the most likes, Pinterest remains focused on quality content or Pins. While the Pinterest platform does have a comment function, it's not visible until the content or Pin is expanded, allowing for a more positive experience and mitigating negative commentary altogether," notes Zaleski. People who struggle with negative conditions in their personal lives are better served by communities where negativity is less rampant.
And there is a lot of bad information online. Doctors are overwhelmed by patients who self diagnose with information obtained for sites that are not reputable. Zaleski views the content differently on Pinterest, than on other search engines, like Google.
“The platform is a trustworthy source to gain information on various topics from health issues to vegan recipes and fashion," said Zaleski. "The trustworthiness of Pinterest as a source in combination with its ability to garner a positive experience on the platform makes it a supportive community, as users are less likely to Pin for re-pins and commentary [when it is negative]."
Kiara Martilla, also in the social media field, states that health is one of the biggest topics searched on Pinterest and also highlighted the difference in results compared to Google. "Pinterest is different because [although] it compiles resources the same way Google does, what comes up first is based upon what other users have saved or pinned. That means you are more likely to find a result that [validates] what you are feeling, and offers actionable resources on what to do about it.
With physical pain, you will often come across exercises or holistic methods that may offer relief. With mental health, you find an array of journaling, meditation and even blogs or communities that offer guidance on how to learn to manage it appropriately."
Like Mahalli, Martilla also believes this should not take the place of professional support, but agrees it is a good resource for actionable suggestions that may relieve mental or physical discomfort until a person can meet with a professional. Everyone needs social support, whether for chronic pain or major depression. If Pinterest is one source that is positive for users and accessible to everyone, there is no harm in trying it, especially as an alternative to negative channels.
Tina Arnoldi is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Charleston, SC, business consultant, and freelance writer. She is a reviewer for PsychCentral (you can find her work here) and has a public portfolio on Contently. You can learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com