Here’s How Micro-Influencers Are Destigmatizing Mental Health in India
Aditi and Sheetal are not alone. Search engine data shows 11 million annual searches about anxiety and depression, 267,000 monthly searches seeking help, and an 80 percent growth in searches related to suicide since January 2020. According to the WHO, 200 million people suffer from mental disorders in India. Of these, only 10–15 percent receive treatment due to poor infrastructure, economic difficulties, and deep-rooted stigma. The pandemic has further accelerated this crisis.
Log Kya Kahenge? Internalized social codes are a major barrier in the fight to destigmatize mental illnesses and access help. The idea of “Log kya kahenge?” (What will people say?) guides most social behaviors, including frank discussions on mental health. It manifests in denying existing conditions and suppressing efforts to seek help. Memes on reactions to depression continue to reflect these normalized beliefs and values.
Life Coaches and Spiritual Gurus. At the other end of the spectrum are those who seek to engage with mental health issues by giving informal and unscientific advice. These are usually encountered online, such as on YouTube, where self-proclaimed life coaches and spiritual gurus dole out “advice.” Rather than examining the disorders through a medical and scientific lens, these personalities tie mental illnesses to physical weakness, stressing that home remedies and strong control of the mind can cure people.
While the status quo is to ignore mental health issues, there is growing pushback and awareness among the younger generation. They are increasingly speaking out online, sharing their own stories and experiences, creating resources to help others, and forming organizations and support groups. Increasing public conversations on mental health and related issues, sometimes tragically put in the spotlight by celebrity suicide, is leading to a steady rise in searches about these topics. Since 2017, there has been a spike in searches in the run-up to the World Mental Health Day on 10th October.
There have also been numerous digital initiatives to de-stigmatize mental illness and build awareness and empathy about mental health conditions through national ad campaigns, e-counseling services, mental health collectives, and individual micro-influencers.
While national ad campaigns may reach huge audiences, they do not command viewers’ attention. Micro-influencers are the most valuable tool in building mental health awareness and acceptance of disorders. The ability of these personalities to influence self-awareness, take away the “othering” of people suffering from mental health issues, and encouraging personal testimonials, gives their followers the courage to look at mental health and themselves differently. These influencers range from mental health professionals to bloggers, journalists, and local comedians.
Leveraging AI to assess the impact of micro-influencers
With the help of our proprietary AI, Quilt.AI studied 36 mental health collectives and individual micro-influencers, who actively build mental health awareness online. These social accounts have the highest reach and engagement on Instagram.
Our AI analyzed and clustered the visual and textual content of these accounts to better understand their communication styles and key messaging.
The outward-event cluster seeks to make their audience aware of mental health issues and the need to care for one’s mental well-being. They emphasize their part to play in a wider movement. The everyday-inward cluster encourages people to reflect and take stock of their needs even as they go about their daily lives.
What type of content resonates the most?
Based on the level of post engagement in each content cluster, we found the following messaging resonates the most:
Peek Behind the Curtain
This type of content includes personal, everyday anecdotes about being unapologetic about who you are and embracing yourself. The content is self-reflective and deeply personal and visuals revolve around people, selfies, and writing. Examples of such influencers include Rega Jha, Tanmoy Goswami, and Bhavya Kulshreshtha. They have a strong connection with their followers who resonate with such content and respond with their own experiences and stories. They leave comments appreciating the content and acknowledging that it made them think, embrace their own struggles and feelings.
You’re Not Alone
This type of content puts a face to mental health survivors everywhere. It includes personal stories from people who struggle(d) with mental health and has a clear call to action to join the conversation. Examples of such handles include The Live Love Laugh Foundation, We The Young India, and ItsOkToTalk. Their posts have strong engagement in the form of likes (>1000) and motivate their followers to seek help for their problems. They respond with appreciative comments such as “needed this”, “thanks for sharing”, and “this is so good”.
Feed the Soul
This type of content includes nuggets of wisdom on personal and emotional growth. Plants and flowers take center stage. Gardening is used as a metaphor for growth and emotional well-being. Examples of such handles are Psychlarity, The Semicolon Space, and Psych Talk. Their captions invite further discussion which boosts engagement beyond just ‘likes’. People appreciate the message and garden aesthetic with positive comments such as “I agree”, “Beautiful”, “So true”, and “I love this”.
Self-compassion, self-awareness, and self-love are key components in the micro-influencers’ approach towards destigmatizing mental health issues. These key components resonate strongly with their audience and strengthen online discourse in a way that conventional ads and campaigns cannot. The content is creative, informative, and relatable — ideal to reach and impact India’s growing digital population and reverse the ongoing mental health crisis. Most importantly, it lets individuals like Aditi and Sheetal know that they are not alone — there is a community of people out there that understands their mental health struggles and is willing to provide support, rather than joining the chorus of “log kya kahenge.”
Watch this space for information on our upcoming Mental Health webinar!