A chorus of support for those struggling with mental illness

Entrepreneur Jen Hyatt, founder and CEO of Big White Wall, an online mental health support and treatment platform, talked to the TEDMED 2014 audience about how social networks can provide healing help to those who feel isolated in their struggles with mental illness. We spoke with her via email about her talk.

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

TEDMED’s global reach presents an unparalleled opportunity to “converse with the world.” TEDMED’s ethos, the ability to share knowledge and offbeat thinking that creates surprising sparks between innovators and disruptors from across the globe, is very dear to my heart. Focusing on the people who are creating new, or even strange or unusual, speaks to the greatest challenges facing health care offers the opportunity for transforming moribund systems. Being part of that, sharing knowledge and ideas, was a real privilege. So my message, as part of that, is that the economic and human cost of poor mental health is tragic in proportion, yet has a digital and human sized solution.

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Jen Hyatt at TEDMED 2014 Photo: TEDMED/Sandy Huffaker

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

Conventional methods of addressing poor mental health cannot meet the volume of need. We see this crisis in provision – lack of treatment, barriers to access, high costs and the pain caused by a lack of support for mental health – across the whole world. In my TEDMED talk, I showed that the human need for connection and community is thousands of years old. Yet it’s only now, with the growth of digital technology and online social networks, that we have the potential to truly transform mental health care with the support of online communities and a broad choice of support and recovery tools, so no one has to struggle alone. We need to shift the healthcare journey from one where people are passive and isolated to one where they are active and supported.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

An emotionally literate world, in which there is no more mental health stigma, and no one left struggling without help. Every human being should have one-click access to support and recovery tools for improving how they are feeling, and I hope that will be Big White Wall (BWW)’s legacy, and mine. A world in which your emotion is known without needing to speak it provides support that is integral to our lives.

Please share anything else you wish you could have included in your talk.

I wish I could have shared the vibrant images that our community members use to show their journeys from darkness to light, from struggle to recovery, and all the moments in between. Big White Wall centers on a shared, anonymous digital social space, supported 24/7 by professional staff. This center draws much of its strength from the power of peers – not trained professionals, but people just like you and me. Not necessarily the people who see themselves as leaders or helpers, but the struggling, the lost, the unhappy and the confused. I wish I could have showed a bit of their struggle, their strength and the amazing support they offer.

Watch Jen Hyatt’s TEDMED 2014 talk here.