Meet UAE's first TikTok 'Change Maker' using social media to destigmatise mental health

Dr Jana Bou Reslan creates content that combats stigma and stereotypes on topics relating to high-functioning anxiety, parenting, trauma, and setting healthy boundaries


Somya Mehta

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Published: Mon 8 Jul 2024, 3:07 PM

Social media creators worldwide are creating an impact both on and beyond the digital platforms. Beyond viral trends and cat videos, digital platforms have also become a potent arena for driving social good, championing noble causes and mobilising communities, giving way to a new age of activism.

Social movements that once heavily depended on offline activities can now rely on trending hashtags, photo-sharing and online communities. Every day, we get to witness this through videos from heartwarming heroes who offer judgement-free advice and modern educators who combine creativity and authenticity in their teaching, championing knowledge in an engaging and entertaining manner.

#TikTok For Change

Further harnessing social media’s power to create impact, popular social media platform TikTok recently launched a one-of-a-kind Change Makers Programme, empowering creators to use #TikTokforGood.

This global social impact creator programme highlights creators and non-profits who drive meaningful change in their communities using TikTok.

To officially launch this programme, TikTok unveiled their inaugural global list of Change Makers, featuring 50 purpose-driven creators from around the world, including UAE’s first Change Maker to kickstart the initiative in the country, Dr Jana Bou Reslan.

Dr Jana, who’s an experienced university lecturer in Educational Psychology hailing from Lebanon, has dedicated her social media presence to raising awareness about mental health challenges and offering solutions to people in the UAE.

Through her TikTok account, she creates content that combats stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental health, including starting conversations on sensitive topics such as high-functioning anxiety, parenting, trauma, and setting healthy boundaries.

@drjanaboureslan الم الدورة الشهرية يعادل الم الذبحة القلبية Period cramps are as painful as a heart attack #monthlycycle #hormonalcycle #cyclepain #crampspain #womenshealth #heartattackpain #realpain #acknowledgement ♬ original sound - Jana Bou Reslan

"Good mental health is of utmost importance for thriving communities, influencing everything from education to workplace productivity. Social media has been playing a vital role in reaching out to different audiences and promoting positive and relatable topics within our community,” says Dr Jana (@drjanaboureslan on TikTok), with a following of almost 200k on the platform.

“Through initiatives like the Change Makers programme and my advocacy on TikTok, I want to highlight the importance of mental health in the GCC, the Arab World, and beyond," she adds.

Selection into the programme

Over the course of six months, the platform will support creators such as Dr Jana, by helping them build engaged communities, reach new audiences, and unlock offline opportunities. Through dedicated tools and donations to non-profit organisations supporting their cause, the creators will be empowered to amplify their impact.

"TikTok has always valued small acts of kindness and their community impact by supporting content creators in giving back to their communities. This is a great way to empower more creators to follow suit and think about purpose-driven content."

The selection process to become a TikTok Change Maker involved qualitative assessments by the platform, where the platform gathered insights on the type of content created by Dr Jana and how it helps her community. "Based on my role in the TikTok community, I focus on making a positive impact on well-being in the UAE," she adds.

"My content encourages followers to share personal stories and promotes empathy and understanding on sensitive topics such as confidence, assertiveness, well-being tips, high-functioning anxiety, parenting, communication, and love languages," says Dr Jana, who from an early age was captivated by the diverse ways people learned and interacted, spending hours observing students in her school.

Her curiosity led her to devour books on psychology and human development, eventually becoming a university lecturer and authoritative voice on the subject at hand.

Social media for social good—and bad

In today's digital age, Dr Jana has embraced platforms like TikTok to further her advocacy of the mental health crisis prevalent across the globe.

She recognises the power of social media in spreading awareness and promoting mental health. “The urgency post-Covid-19 has exacerbated mental health issues, making immediate action imperative to support societal resilience. Through TikTok, I have been able to promote the importance of mental health and share tips with my community, to see real-time engagement and impact."

However, the rise of social media has also brought challenges, particularly the spread of misinformation about psychology.

"From my perspective and background, I can say that misinformation on social media regarding mental health poses a significant threat, as it can lead to misdiagnosis, stigma, and unsafe advice," shares Dr Jana, a certified coach with a Ph.D. in educational psychology, emphasising her primary motivation for starting to create content on social media.

Dangers of self-diagnosis and 'oversimplifying' context

Highlighting the dangers of self-diagnosis on social media, Dr Jana advises audiences to verify the credentials of individuals sharing mental health information and cross-reference with trusted sources like academic journals and official health websites. “It's also crucial to consult with a licensed mental health professional for accurate diagnosis and advice.”

While social media can effectively raise awareness about psychological concepts, Dr Jana also cautions against the oversimplification of complex issues. “Social media can highlight important psychological concepts and raise awareness, but it's essential to remember that short reels and posts might only capture part of a complex picture."

@drjanaboureslan النظام التعليمي للروضة يهدف إلى تطوير مهارات الأطفال الاجتماعية والعاطفية والحركية من خلال أنشطة متنوعة، مثل اللعب التعليمي والرسم والغناء و ذلك بما يتناسب مع نمو الطفل... على خلاف نظرة البعض بانها مرحلة تمضي فيها الاطفال وقتهم بلا هدف او مرحلة يجب ان تكون مرتكزة فقط على جوانب أكاديمية. #learning_psychology #مهارات #مهارات_الطفال #علم_نفس_التعلم #TikTokforGood #TikTok_Partner #LearnOnTikTok #تعلم_على_التيك_توك ♬ original sound - Jana Bou Reslan

"They often lack context, and sensationalism can overshadow accuracy. Another aspect to be wary of is that algorithms may reinforce existing beliefs, limiting diverse perspectives," she adds.

While these platforms can be beneficial in spreading knowledge and starting conversations, they can sometimes oversimplify issues, leading to misunderstandings. “To fully appreciate and understand psychological topics, it's important to seek out comprehensive information and professional guidance. This approach allows us to enjoy the positive outcomes of social media while remaining mindful of its limitations."

Potential to create impact

It's crucial to promote accurate, evidence-based information and encourage critical thinking, she adds. "Social media platforms should collaborate with certified professionals to highlight reliable content, similar to the goals of this programme."

"Ultimately, seeking guidance from qualified mental health professionals is essential for proper care and support," she adds.

Despite these challenges, Dr Jana sees the great potential in social media to spread knowledge and create meaningful change. "TikTok videos make learning fun and accessible, facilitating the spread of information to large audiences. With such initiatives, we can extend this impact beyond the digital realm and work towards creating meaningful change on the ground."

Looking ahead

As the platform strengthens the synergy between creators and non-profit organisations to drive grassroots-level change, they have also introduced the TikTok Change Makers Grant as a key component of the programme. Through this grant, TikTok aims to donate over $1 million to more than 30 global and local non-profit organisations that support a range of important causes.

But will initiatives such as these suffice to combat the rampant spread of misinformation and other hazards on social media, as mentioned by Dr Jana? Time will tell.


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