People have always felt the need to reach out to others at times of crisis, and social media is just another way of doing this – one that we can’t easily ignore.
Writing in The Telegraph, online culture expert Jamie Bartlett commented: “How we as a society incorporate social media into the process of dying and grieving is an increasingly important subject.”
People with serious and life-threatening conditions, or their relatives, often write blogs, or update followers via Twitter or Facebook, finding the process cathartic or just a useful means of keeping loved-ones up to date.
Some people don’t like to see these “dying updates” in their news feeds, but others see it as a useful way of challenging the taboos around death and dying and encouraging others to talk about the subject.
Social media is also changing how we leave our mark after we die. Writing letters for loved ones to read after we are gone is not new, but now there are online services which allow you to schedule emails, Tweets and Facebook updates to be sent after you are dead.
Websites such as Facebook are also having to think about how to deal with accounts after users die.
Those working in hospices and palliative care are also thinking about how social media affects their work and their patients.
Writing for the UK edition recently, Dr Mark Taubert, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, discusses whether asking patients about social media use be part of a holistic palliative care assessment, after noticing how many patients use social media while in hospital to say in touch with family and friends.
Dr Taubert warns that social media is unlikely to be “just a fad”. He adds: “Perhaps this seems a little while off, but it is indisputable that the social media explosion will have a huge impact on how medicine is practised, and I cannot see us getting away from a future where an clinical ‘Tweetchat’ or similar is a normality.”
Looking outwards, social media is also a vital tool in raising awareness of hospice and palliative care.
On ehospice Africa, Dr Emmanuel Luyirika and Steve Hynd from the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) recently published an article on the importance of using digital media to raise awareness of palliative care.
Claire Maskell Gibson, Palliative Care Australia’s National Communications Manager, has also written an article discussing the opportunities social space has to better connect and engage with audiences, members and the greater palliative care community.
And for those of you who feel inspired, but are not sure how to get started, Sarah Russell, a UK hospice nurse, educator and researcher, offers some useful tips in her article on how social media can influence hospice community engagement.