Susan M. Swearer, a University of Nebraska–Lincoln educational psychologist, licensed psychologist and nationally recognized anti-bullying expert, is consulting on a new social media initiative addressing pandemic-related mental health conditions.
The @SocialThatSupports initiative combines the enormous reach of prominent social media influencers with psychology experts to connect young people, particularly those from traditionally marginalized communities, with science-based information and services about mental health.
The American Psychological Association and several other organizations are contributing to the effort. Swearer is one of a select group of psychologists advising it.
“The idea is to have people with a broad voice, like celebrities or athletes who are already talking about the importance of mental wellness, to have a curated one-stop-shopping space that shares messages about evidence-based mental health services and interventions,” Swearer said. “It’s a logical extension of my work as a psychologist and, though not directly related, my work with the Born This Way Foundation.”
Swearer has advised the anti-bullying and mental wellness work of the Born This Way Foundation since it was launched by Lady Gaga in 2012.
An Instagram account, @SocialThatSupports, was started by Partnerships for Purpose and its founder/CEO David Washington, a philanthropical consultant based in Culver City, California and a graduate of Nebraska’s Law-Psychology Program. Washington is a former aide to President Barack Obama who has worked on philanthropic projects with Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga, as well as the MacArthur Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He holds a doctorate in forensic clinical psychology and a master’s degree in legal studies from Nebraska and is a Yale University graduate who studied abroad at Oxford University.
The effort has a strong Nebraska connection. All of the other psychologists serving on the @SocialThatSupports mental health advisory team are graduates of Nebraska’s Law-Psychology Program and hold doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from Nebraska’s Clinical Psychology Training Program, according to David J. Hansen, director of both programs. They are Eric Elbogen, now on the faculty at Duke University; Monica Rivera Mindt, at Fordham University; and Matthew T. Huss, at Creighton University. Two Husker graduate students in school psychology, Raul Palacios II and Linnea Swanson, also are aiding the project, along with Alexander Slaughter, an undergraduate in psychology and business at Fordham.
“The idea for this ignited a couple days into the mid-March Los Angeles quarantine lockdown due to COVID-19 and my immediate worry about the mental health implications,” Washington said. “Knowing the effort needed the best evidence-based mental wellness information feeding the social media channel, I did my version of shining the Bat Signal in the air for help. It was a Go Big Red text alert I sent to the UNL family, several of whom I went to grad school with. Unsurprisingly, they were all in from jump because we all knew it was one small thing we could do in these extraordinarily challenging times.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 17% of youth ages 6 to 17 experience a mental health disorder. Suicide completion has been on the rise since 2001 and is the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 34.
COVID-19’s devastating impact has demonstrated the severe lack of resources required for people to maintain mental wellness, Swearer said. Many individuals who once received face-to-face mental health services have had to adjust or suspend their treatment because of limited economic resources, such as income, internet services and computer access. In addition, many people are experiencing anxiety, depression and other problems because of instability caused by the pandemic, sometimes worsened by the misinformation often found on social media, which @SocalThatSupports seeks to remedy.
Swearer said the @SocialThatSupports mental health advisory team has been meeting since April, providing the latest research on COVID-19 and mental health; systemic racism and mental health; and strategies to maintain mental health. A social media team distills those messages in a user-friendly format.
“I’m grateful for this project,” Swearer said. “It’s a powerful Nebraska connection, working with David, Monica, Eric and Matt. And it’s fun to be part of something that’s positive in a time when we’re inundated with negative messages.”