For Canadian resident Omar Bazza, once an economics student in the US, a brush with mental health came through an episode of anxiety and depression. It prompted him to switch majors to delve deeper into the world of psychology. After an undergraduate degree with a psychology major in Vancouver and a postgraduate degree in clinical psychology from the UK, Bazza wanted to share his knowledge and experience. On Twitter, which he joined in January this year, he found an audience waiting to lap it all up.
“I think that social media is a very good platform for discussing mental health. It is accessible to many people. There is the option of using private messages for confidentiality," says Bazza. "The main drawback is that we cannot dedicate too much time to any one individual in particular,” he adds.
While mental health awareness, especially among millennials and Gen-Z , is growing, but there are barriers to seeking professional help. Social media provides a more accessible route to learning more about mental health, especially if it's a qualified psychologist dispensing advice. “I always thought that the main problem with mental health was that it was restricted to only the few people that we were working with, and I wanted it to be available to more people,” says Bazza.
“There is a lot of mental health stigma that we internalize. One common question I get is: How do I treat this without meds or therapy? No one would ask this question for physical illness at all, but we still believe there is a workaround for mental health because it is not as real,” says Bazza, who goes by the handle @bazzapower on Twitter and Instagram.
[THREAD] I want to talk about compassion fatigue in more detail. It is something that happens more often than we think and can add a lot of guilt because we feel we no longer care for other people, even when it is not accurate. So what is it? And can we get out of it?— Omar Bazza (@bazzapower) October 10, 2020
He believes his popularity has less to do with his methods than with the absence of mental health education in our societies. “I did not expect my threads or any of the work I did on social media to become popular at all. It was a good release for me to share my knowledge in a way that I chose. I think the lack of knowledge or education in our cultures regarding mental health is a big component in terms of why people enjoy my threads,” he says. It cannot be a replacement for therapy, though, he clarifies.
There are 5 distinct stages of the grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Most people think that we go through these stages in a linear way and when we reach acceptance, we are considered recovered. However it doesn’t quite work that way.— Omar Bazza (@bazzapower) September 28, 2020
Bazza talks directly to his audience, often beginning with a question or a personal anecdote and ending with an empathetic appeal. He is articulate, confident and doesn’t let the trolls get to him. At 30, he is also in tune with millennial-speak, and wears his identity on his sleeve. He is brown, politically left-aligned, feminist and a queer ally in the making. When he isn’t dishing out threads, he is sharing pictures of his backyard, his obliging pets, and retweeting his followers.
Bazza’s followers run into a few thousands and his threads are retweeted a few hundred times at least. Earlier, the threads would also be filled with questions about the subject he had tweeted about and personal mental health queries. This prompted Bazza to start AMA (Ask me anything) sessions where he answers mental health queries over DM promptly and listens empathetically. Yes, we reached out to him!
The sessions last an hour and he receives anywhere from 20-50 questions. “The highest has been 83 so far,” he reveals. “I did not think I would do it weekly. In fact, it started with me doing them only once in a while. After that, I had a poll and most people voted to have them weekly.”
It isn’t the only thing Bazza took a poll on. In May, he asked his followers if he should stick to Twitter threads or start a YouTube channel and received an overwhelming, 90%, yes add:for the latter?. “It is in the works. I have already created the channel and bought most of the supplies. I am just waiting on a few more things before I can officially launch it. I would say before end 2020,” he says, adding that a platform like that would enable him to speak directly to people, integrate many formats in one video and take a deep dive into topics without a crippling character limit.
For Bazza, no topic is out of bounds and nothing really is taboo. Most recently, he has spoken about co-dependent and dependent relationships (and the difference between them), suicide prevention, the act of repressing emotions, parenting, coping with abuse during the pandemic, and more. “ For the most part, it is inspiration, or a topic that I have seen discussed in the media or on Twitter. Sometimes, people would ask me to write a thread as well. There isn’t a single topic that I thought about and decided not to write on social media,” he says about his selection.
Though a deeper understanding of mental health issues in a conversational, approachable manner on Twitter may be the need of the hour for an eager audience, Bazza realizes that it does sometimes leave him open to what he fears—emergency messages. This is also why he cautions followers, repeatedly, to seek help elsewhere. “I do not encourage people to reach out to me in case of emergencies. I have a full-time job and my personal life. I cannot deal with emergencies on my own. If I happen to stumble on to those messages, my conscience would not allow me to disregard them, but it also leaves me feeling a little disturbed because these are not issues I am ready to deal with while I am trying to wind down and relax,” he says.
You would think instilling hope in a millennial world grappling with the intricacies of mental health in the middle of a pandemic would be a full-time job, but Bazza insists he spends no longer than 2-3 hours on social media every day. “I actually have a day job with an agency called Strides Toronto, a government non-profit aimed at providing free mental health services for youth ages 12-29 and their families,” he quips.
Prachi Sibal is a Mumbai-based independent journalist