As we near the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important to consider how COVID-19 has impacted our individual and collective psychology. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a global crisis, but a rearrangement of reality. Over the past year, we’ve each seen our perceptions of ourselves, others, and society drastically changed. We need to consider the implications of that for our lives overall, and our work, in particular.

As many people shifted their lives online to stay safe, we saw a complete disruption sociologically in the way we connect with each other. Our reliance on digital technology for connection and information has caused a “social dilemma,” leading to what many are now referring to as a mental health epidemic.

Address the Infodemic
Part of the problem is that the same technology that connects and informs can also be used for purposes that have negative consequences for our mental health. There are record highs in distrust of media, government, and big tech, and this has led to an “infodemic”– a pandemic of misinformation — led by countries with poor “information hygiene” such as the United States, India, and France. Moreover, the increase in online engagement has led to information fatigue in many, which can lead to individuals being more likely to believe unrealistic theories rather than less-than-stimulating — but more accurate — news. As providers of information to our clients, patients, caregivers, and the public, it is more important than ever that healthcare brands ensure that information is factual, comprehensible, and available.

The infodemic has not only led to a divide socially, by changing the way we interact with society daily, but also has created a psychological divide, composed of physical isolation and digital overstimulation. Humans are not biologically constructed to live in isolation. As we heard at this year’s virtual SXSW conference, rising incidences of mental illnesses are a result of the collateral effects of the pandemic. And this epidemic is predicted to be more fatal and remain prevalent in society longer than any physical contagion. In fact, scientists are now calling on businesses to develop more corporate social responsibility-based initiatives to help battle society’s looming mental health incidence rates.

Trust Is Key in Building Strong Relationships
The power and potential of our industry lies in the mutual trust that we build and maintain with our physical and online consumer communities. The power grows not only as the communities increase in size, but also in their strength of authenticity and authority. The pandemic has sped up innovation — but this has, in many cases, widened an existing gap in equity and accessibility. How can we do more to ensure that useful information gets to our HCPs, patients, and caregivers — and serves to reassure them during these turbulent times?

When consumers cannot find desired information on a vetted site, or do not find those sites convenient or accessible, they turn to secondary sources, such as forums, to learn more. These communities are not just for the masses, they can also be used to conduct social listening or sentiment analysis to better understand the needs of their target audiences.

Don’t Forget Data-Driven Solutions
I completed my master’s dissertation on the applications of big data in healthcare marketing at the peak of the pandemic in the United Kingdom and discussed the untapped potential of data-driven digital tactics and tools for governments to provide healthcare solutions. I found a severe lack in data-driven mental health initiatives and discovered that many common marketing strategies can be adjusted slightly and applied to help improve mental health. For instance, using SEO to get key mental health trending topic information in conjunction with drug or treatment safety information to increase website traffic. This not only can increase visibility and access to the brand site, but also provide resources for those in need — a win-win situation for both parties.

The bottom line is that companies should consider proactive mental health initiatives. These can be done using many different tools/platforms already in their arsenal. By talking about mental health and its importance, the sentiment, awareness, and conversation around the brand also improves – as does the mental health crisis before us all.

We need to make sure we provide solutions that are equitable, factual, ethically sourced, and accessible to all, while taking special consideration for the erratic psychological entanglement that is our mental health. Despite the abundance of research, funding, and data on mental health initiatives and treatments, there are limited solutions offered by businesses due to stigmatization or lack of awareness. People fear innovation, as it can lead to inequality and massive lifestyle shifts. Through the utilization of big data analytics and other data-driven tools already in use, we can proactively address this new epidemic.

Anan Vijay is a marketing coordinator at Intouch Group.