Traumatic events that are in the form of natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes or flooding, and human created disasters related to disease outbreak, terrorism, gun violence and other occurrences of mass violence, can have an immense impact on mental health and vulnerability to traumatic stress. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-SAMHSA, 2019)
The use of social media can be a valuable tool in these times of crisis for survivors, first responders, affected communities and beyond. This post highlights three ways social media can play a beneficial role before, during and after times of distress and traumatic events.
- Broadcasting critical information: Social media and their communication platforms can provide announcements and updates in regards to helping with preparation of impending events, provide warning, response, recovery, and education. A benefit of using social media for providing and receiving information, is that this content can be communicated in real time, as it becomes available and can be broadcasted to a broad audience easily and with a wide reach. Critical information can become accessible to many quickly. Social media is often used as the fastest way to inform others such as family and loved ones about safety status, needing help, or for others to assist in communicating these messages. This can help decrease fear and worry, as well as empower affected individuals, communities, and the public with a feeling of control amidst a situation that can be chaotic and overwhelming.
- Promoting resiliency: An important factor that creates and strengthens resiliency and the ability to recover and come back from distressing events and experiences is connection to others. A sense of belonging and community that can be facilitated through social media can provide survivors and affected others know they are not alone, find support, and an outlet for coping. Social media can also be vital for sustaining ongoing connection and community in the aftermath of trauma and loss through our personal or group networks, offering digital spaces for sharing virtual memorials, memories, images, and story telling.
- Access of resources: Sites in the form of social media networks, blogs, and websites offer a way to obtain and exchange information and resources in times of emergencies, crisis, or disaster. Some examples of tools online include:
– Facebook Crisis Response: With this response tool, you can mark yourself safe for others you are connected to on Facebook be notified when an emergency takes place in your area. You can also use this tool to find or give assistance, and receive information during and after a crisis.
– Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention Alerts on Twitter- Center for Preparedness and Response provides crisis or emergency updates or follow Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Twitter that supports citizens and first responders before, during, and after emergencies.
SAMHSA also recommends these social media resources:
– Disaster Distress Helpline– Provides readiness preparation information, education and coping strategies on Facebook, @distressline on Twitter, or Text TalkWithUs or Hablanos to 66746
– The Red Cross Safe and Well Database- You can register yourself or search for others as a way to communicate safety when disaster happens.
– Google People Finder: This Google tool helps people connect with loved ones in the aftermath of natural and humanitarian disasters.
A note of real caution with using social media of course is that misinformation can also quickly and widely spread, so it is important to be mindful of where you obtain information from online. A challenge of social media includes that information such as individual opinion be interpreted, reported, or shared on social media as fact. This confusion can cause additional uncertainty, heightened arousal and response in the face of critical situations. Filtering your social media exposure by using tools that are suggested above can help navigate and manage these risks. It is also valuable to be aware of privacy, security, and safety issues, such as disclosing personal or location information that could put you risk on social media, especially in moments of crisis or great need. And finally, an important consideration is to mindfully manage and monitor social media exposure and content that can become a source of anxiety, fear, panic, and distress.
Social media can certainly be a lifeline in critical times and I believe the benefits (and challenges) to bring assistance and resources to others prior, throughout, and following an event are worth us all becoming familiar with in this digitally connected world.
- Social media and disasters
- The role of social media in disaster psychiatry
- Emergent use of social media: A new age of opportunity for disaster resilience
- Online social media in crisis events