A Jefferson medical student uses social media to create educational content about mental health and illness, breaking stigma and barriers to getting help.
In a survey conducted by the CDC last year, a staggering 41% of respondents reported experiencing at least one negative mental health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depression, or increased substance use to cope with stress related to the pandemic. It is clear that mental well-being and treatment for mental illness cannot be ignored. But even with increased advocacy to open conversations about mental health, it is still a taboo topic.
This is something that fourth-year medical student Jake Goodman is trying to tackle through a variety of efforts. He creates mental health advocacy videos to an audience of over a million followers between TikTok and Instagram; his videos often go viral, breaking the all too often rigid boundaries and stigma that keep people struggling in silence. Through his podcast called, “You Matter Most,” Jake interviews mental health professionals and activists to talk about how they use their platforms to break mental health stigma. In October of 2020, he co-founded a clothing company called “Mental Health Movement” with a mission of normalizing mental health and raising funds for mental health advocacy organizations and charities. Jake and co-founder Zachery Dereniowski, in collaboration with scholarship website, bold.org, created three $1,000 scholarships available to any student in the U.S. who struggles with a mental illness.
We talked with Jake, who also graduated with an MBA from the University of Georgia, and will begin his residency in psychiatry at the University of Miami/ Jackson Memorial Hospital starting this June. We asked him what drives his passion for mental health, and how he uses his social media platform to make mental health part of the mainstream cultural conversation.
@jakegoodman.medShare to Break The Stigma. Scrubs, my favorite: @jaanuuscrubs #feelinggood #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #wellness♬ original sound – Chris
What sparked your interest in mental health and mental health advocacy?
When I was in high school, someone very close to me suffered from addiction and I saw firsthand the devastating impact that this disease has on people and their families. So very early on, I decided that I wanted to become a doctor to help people in their most vulnerable state. A few years later in college, I lost a friend to suicide. This tragedy had a huge impact on me and solidified my desire to become a physician and help people who are struggling with their mental health.
I believe mental health stigma was a big factor that prevented my friend from seeking the life-saving treatment that he needed. Once I matriculated into medical school and had more hands-on experience working in methadone clinics and inpatient and outpatient treatment centers for mental illness, I grew increasingly passionate about normalizing conversations around mental health and empowering people with the tools to help themselves and others.
What drew you to social media as a way to share your message? In what ways does TikTok serve as a unique platform to talk about mental health?
At the time that I wanted to start on social media, I was learning about how to use social media marketing in my MBA classes. I had no social media experience before that, but I decided to give it a shot. I knew that people are active on social media now more than ever, especially during the pandemic with social isolation at an all-time high. It’s been a place for people to spend their time. I quickly realized that I could reach a lot of people at once.
The main demographic that consumes my content on TikTok are Gen Z – 12 to 18 year olds – and that is a subset of the population that suffers from depression and anxiety at high rates. In my videos, I never offer medical or mental health advice or treatment, or talk about my own mental health experiences. The main goal is to be educational and try to show, for example, what depression and recovering from depression actually look like. TikTok makes it really easy to use a popular song and catchy graphics or a green screen to put text boxes on. With that, I can create a video that shows that recovering from depression can often involve getting adequate sleep, improving your diet, exercise, getting involved in therapy, sometimes thinking about medication and reaching out to people you love. I just try to emphasize that it’s really a holistic treatment process. Every time I use any sort of statistics or data, I always make sure to cite them and use reliable sources like the CDC or World Health Organization.
In all of my videos I encourage viewers to drop a comment if the content relates to them, and it’s incredible to see thousands of people across the world opening up about their depression, anxiety, PTSD, whatever they may be struggling with. I also receive hundreds of direct messages a day from people saying that my videos gave them the push they needed to go to therapy or seek help or that my videos help them feel less alone. It’s incredibly gratifying and humbling to see that kind of response, and I think social media is so unique in that way, because it can create this really powerful sense of community and connection.
I think it also allows these important conversations and messages to be super accessible. I’m reaching people where they’re at – at home on the couch, or on public transport or in a park. This is how people consume information these days, and you never know how that information might impact someone. For someone who is struggling, my videos might let them know that they’re not alone and that there are life-saving treatments out there. Maybe they’re not ready to go see a doctor or therapist yet, but hopefully my videos will encourage them to seek out help or even tell one other person about what they’re dealing with. And even if you’re not struggling – my goal is that people leave with information that they may have not known before.
A lot of your content has gone viral – how do you tread that fine line between making content that is engaging and wide-reaching, and also educational?
I didn’t start off viral. My first few videos barely got any views at all. I really invested in studying social media trends and people who are creating viral content and seeing what works for them – how to create a great hook, how to incorporate music and the quick cuts to text. I just got better and better through practice. I basically find trends that exist out on the internet, trends that have nothing to do with mental health or medicine, and I’ll say to myself, how can I take this and do something positive with it for mental health?
I’ve also learned along the way that the best way to reach people is to collaborate with other people on social media and with our combined audiences, we can reach so much more people. I’ve collaborated with doctors in other specialties, but I’ve also connected with public figures in other areas of life. For example, I just interviewed a professional NASCAR driver who suffered from depression and anxiety, and I also connected with a rapper who wrote a song about mental health. These are people you wouldn’t necessarily expect to talk about mental health but by them opening up about their struggles, it normalizes the conversation. And that’s my goal – to make mental health mainstream and “cool” so that a 16 year-old boy in Illinois or a 14 year-old girl in Alaska can still relate to the content and maybe get a little bit of the courage to reach out after seeing some of my videos.
The conversation around mental health and self-care is opening up but mental illness is still such a taboo topic – how are you trying to break that stigma with your content?
I definitely don’t shy away from those more serious topics. I’ve done videos on domestic violence, PTSD, OCD, suicide, and I try to provide a disclaimer or trigger warning upfront about these sensitive topics. I also always try to provide tangible resources, like hotline numbers with trained professionals who can help in a crisis.
I try to have the viewer leave each video with a feeling – sometimes that feeling is positive, sometimes it’s negative, but when you watch my videos, you’ll leave feeling something. And I think that’s why I’ve been able to reach so many people, and get people to care about these issues. Once you get a perspective on an issue you maybe didn’t know much about, and that information evokes a feeling, you can start to reflect and think – what can I do about it? My content is meant for everyone, because what I’ve realized is, everyone may not have lived experience but almost everyone knows someone that has had lived experience. So everyone stands to gain from watching videos like this because they may be able to increase their empathy for friends or family.
@jakegoodman.med#POV You run into your friend who’s in med school #medschool #doctor #medicine #mentalhealthawareness #MyRecommendation♬ original sound – Tik Toker
Why do you think it’s important to you, someone who identifies as male, to speak about mental health?
Men and women experience mental health at different rates. So for example, men are more likely to pass away from suicide than women. Women are actually more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to pass away from suicide. There’s also evidence for the fact that women are more likely to seek treatment for mental illness and men are more likely to not talk about it, let alone seek treatment. And I think there’s a toxic culture that has existed for many, many years of men trying to be tough and suck it up and “man up.” They feel like they can’t reach out because they would be viewed as weak.
I believe this added stigma that prevents men from seeking out help, and prevents men from recognizing if another man is suffering that contributed significantly to my friend losing his life to suicide. So I do focus a lot of my content around men’s mental health and I try to lead by example. Most of the mental health activists with large followings that you see on social media tend to be women. I am one of the only male creators on social media focusing on mental health with such a large following. That’s a really unique opportunity to start changing the culture, and I already see an impact – I get comments from so many people who identify as men who share their mental health stories.
What gives you hope for the conversation around mental health?
I’ve learned through this journey just how common mental illness is and I’ve connected with so many people who are just struggling in silence. I’ve found that Generation Z is so much more open about mental health than other generations. They’ve grown up with movies like “Inside Out” which talks about sadness as a valuable emotion. In many ways, they’re the driving force behind platforms like mine on social media, they are the key to amplifying important messages. My goal is to provide them with the tools to change the culture so that mental health is just as important as physical health. That’s the hope.