Life and likes: mental health in the online world – Reflecting on Health and Care Innovation Expo 2019

On Wednesday 4 September, I was fortunate enough to attend the first day of Health and Care Innovation Expo 2019 to join the panel discussion “Life and Likes: mental health in the online world” to share my negative and positive experiences as a social media user and how it has impacted how I view my body image.

I had the privilege of sharing the stage with who I can only describe as some of the best health and digital professionals in the UK: Claire Murdoch – National Mental Health Director for NHS England and NHS Improvement, Dr Radha Modgil, a broadcaster, author and campaigner for physical and mental wellbeing, Guy Parker, the Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Agency, and Professor Steve Powis, National Medical Director for NHS England and NHS Improvement.

There were some key points I took away from our panel discussion, which I’d like to share here:

  • Authenticity – We’re all responsible, as professionals and users, for what content we put onto our platforms whether we are representing ourselves, a brand or a community. Being as authentic as possible is how we humanise and normalise conversations and stop young people believing in an idealised way of living. For me, this is especially important in wider conversations around ‘invisible’ conditions, diagnosis or disabilities and how we portray these in online platforms, so we continue to lose stigmas and negative conversations.
  • Early intervention – A topic which was discussed in a variety of ways during Expo. We know that early intervention is needed and that we’re already on our way to making progress. Adopting a process that is used in schools to ensure young people are opening up about their thoughts, feelings and worries allows us to also ensure they are using social media in a responsible way. We don’t need to teach young people that social media is bad and they shouldn’t be using it in ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ – we need to give them the tools to realise what is harmful content and to adopt ways of making their experiences more enjoyable and pleasurable.
  • Transitions – Again, another word that was used throughout Expo which I believe is one of the most important. As human beings, not only are we always evolving, but our society is too. We need to understand as we transition from age to another, there are many societal pressures that come with that, no matter how old we get. Getting older can be a struggle for most and we need to provide support for everyone, at every transition. During my talk, I noted body issues changing over time, it’s not just about being fat or thin anymore. There are more societal pressures, and with access to such a wide variety of platforms, we need to acknowledge this and ensure we’re responsible with our messages.

As someone with no professional medical background, my points above and those mentioned in the panel, are those of my own and my experiences. Naturally, I was apprehensive about being part of a panel for an industry I care so much for but also have no true experience of (from a professional point of view) – plus, this was my first Expo and I was a speaker – I couldn’t believe it!

However, any nerves or anxiety were soon lifted by those who I met throughout Expo (a special shoutout to my new friend Dr Radha) who made me feel so comfortable, at ease and that my opinions/thoughts around these topics were valuable as a young person and a marketing professional.

I couldn’t be more grateful to have had the opportunity to talk about subjects that are so close to my heart and be surrounded by some of the most inspirational people I had the honour of meeting. I had the most incredible day at Expo and I really hope it wasn’t my last appearance at a big NHS event!

Hope Gorton

Hope Gorton is a 27-year-old Digital Marketing Manager working in the advertising industry. As a member of The Reporters’ Academy, she has worked with the NHS Youth Forum to teach young people valuable media skills. She recently attended the NHS Youth Voice Summit to discuss young people’s mental health.

Diagnosed with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in 2015, Hope has experienced first-hand the impact of social media on body image and mental health. She contributed to blogs to raise awareness of the condition – her latest work includes a very honest ‘letter to my gut’ which highlights her personal journey towards accepting her body.