André Tomlin is the creator of the Mental Elf, a website that he started in 2011. He has worked as an Information Scientist in Mental Health since the late nineties; initially at Oxford University's Centre for Evidence-Based Mental Health and since 2002 as the Managing Director of Minervation Ltd.
André collaborated with us to host our very first #MDpbquiz online on Twitter. It was great to interact through the night with online participants and André!
André recently chatted with us digitally about the #MDpubquiz and digital & mental health. Here is what he had to say.
I’d like to see more general events where we talk about mental health
How did you find the pub quiz? I really enjoyed it, even though I was not actually in the room. Actually, I’d like to see more general events where we talk about mental health. One of the challenges about improving mental health literacy is to reach the people who need support. They’re unlikely to be attracted to a mental health event or even interested in a mental health conversation if that’s how it’s badged. Try starting a conversation about mental health with someone you know and you’ll often get a luke warm response, but ask people how they’re feeling and they’ll often open up and learn more. Getting mental health education into schools is clearly a fundamental thing we need to try and achieve. So overall I think pub quizzes, Twitter discos and the like are a great way to start conversations about mental health. Let’s keep it fun, upbeat and accessible for people!
A highlight of the evening? Well hearing Leonard Cohen of course! Plus watching the space hoppers bouncing around and generally feeling the positive, warm, friendly, open vibe. You got the atmosphere just right!
Treat mental illness the same as physical illness
How do you think we can help to break stigma around mental health? Parity of esteem: treat mental illness the same as physical illness. The only way you can separate the mind from the body is with an axe! Stigma is complex and the solutions are not simple: we’ve blogged about it a lot on the Mental Elf!
Twitter helps service users to have a stronger position from which to communicate
Do you think digital could help with that? If yes, how? How do you think digital can support people with mental health issues? Yes, of course. I think social media is key in helping us to have democratic conversations about mental health that involve all of the important people. There are lots of power dynamics in mental health (e.g. when patients experience coercion) and Twitter in particular helps to invert these relationships so that service users have a stronger position from which to communicate. This is a fascinating area and I hope it’s something that clever people are studying!
There are also lots of amazing digital interventions that are being developed and rolled out for mental illness and mental wellbeing. Clearly we need to evaluate these carefully to ensure they are effective and safe, but it’s an exciting time.
The changes we need to make are not technological, but cultural
My work focuses on using digital to close the gap between research and practice. It still takes over 10 years for a new piece of evidence to reach the frontline in the NHS, even though we all have smartphones that can access things instantly. The changes we need to make are not technological, but cultural. Practitioners need to have the time, skills and inclination to use research in their practice, to improve the care of their patients. Importantly we also need to make sure that research is answering the questions that are important to people going through mental health difficulties.
Find more about André’s work