Project Sonrisa - Emma Prach


strong and happy

A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health asked 14-24 year olds in the UK how social media platforms impacted their health and wellbeing. The survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, worsening self esteem and loneliness. Another study published by the Youth, Media and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Center found that 21% of teens “felt down” about themselves after looking at social media.

Emma, a 16 year old student from Glasgow, Scotland, experienced this first hand when she witnessed friends and other young people in her community getting depressed, anxious or developing low self esteem as a result of excessive use of social media. Young people are glued to their phones obsessing over influencers and trends, says Emma. “Most influencers show a glamorous lifestyle, full of positivity and luxury, making viewers feel bad about themselves and their bodies. They set an expectation that virtually nobody can live up to in real life” She adds that a lot of the young people in her community spend way too much time on social media, forgoing real life communication, physical exercise or time outdoors - all of which are essential to maintaining good mental health. 

What made matters worse is that many of those struggling aren’t comfortable about discussing it or seeking help. There is so much stigma surrounding mental health that has been carried forward down generations who dismiss signs of depression or anxiety as “not a big deal” and mock those who speak about their feelings openly, says Emma. She really wanted to challenge this narrative by creating something that would help people understand that it was okay not to be okay, and that talking about mental health should be just as common as sharing about physical health.  She created Project Sonrisa, a web series inviting youth volunteers to share their daily experiences and challenges they experienced with mental health. 

At its core, Project Sonrisa is a storytelling initiative seeking to normalize conversations about mental health. Young people who struggle with mental health can relate to and perhaps learn from the experiences shared by the people in the web series. “They might feel encouraged to speak out and seek professional help, if needed. They will realize they are not alone,” Emma notes. 

Project Sonrisa has so far produced and published six episodes for the web series featuring a diverse group of young people with different backgrounds and experiences. “Creating a website, editing and marketing a project where all things I had to learn from scratch,” says Emma. But she received support from Peace First to get started, to help her think about the structure of each episode and how to market the web series on social media. Emma used social media and web analytics to track video views and website visits. And while audience engagement was low at the beginning, the web series slowly gained traction and was able to create a community of followers. One of the episodes had over 250 people watch the video in its entirety, but the numbers are only one metric, Emma says. “Project Sonrisa really focuses on the ripple or butterfly effect so I believe that possibly hundreds more people were indirectly impacted by our web series.”

The aim of the web series, according to Emma, was to help start more conversations about mental health in order to try and break the stigma surrounding it. People who watch the videos might tell others about them, increasing the visibility of conversations about mental health .  “Many people that Project Sonrisa has been in contact with before said they really enjoyed the web series as it made mental health feel like a more approachable subject. One person that messaged me said that it touched them to see so many people talking about their experience of mental health and it made them see that if they need help or are struggling themselves they really can reach out.” 

When asked about her hopes for the future of Project Sonrisa, Emma says that she hopes more and more people see the web series and realize that there is no shame in talking about mental health, that it’s okay to ask for help and that social media is a mirage that perpetuates myths about self image and lifestyle that no one should aspire to or feel bad about. And even if they do, it's okay to talk about it and process those feelings. She also hopes to create a second web series and perhaps experiment with other formats such as podcasts to get more people to talk about mental health and maybe encourage young people to put their phone down and go outside for some fresh air.

To learn more about Project Sonrisa, visit their website and check out their Facebook and Twitter feeds.