I tend to be a social media early adopter. For some of you, you know me as the Nichole Kelly who wrote How to Measure Social Media, a book that demonstrated the value of online community in dollars and cents. That book was written around a measurement experiment I ran on a private community of over 1 million people in debt who were sharing their stories and turning their lives around. [Case study here]

I learned something really important during that experiment. People are willing to share A LOT online with people they trust. People they consider tribe. And they trust people they’ve never met. In the community at the time, this included the shame associated with getting over their heads in debt and the relief they felt as they finally faced it and started the journey towards being debt free. Their stories were inspiring and some of those community members have become lifelong friendships I cherish.

Fast forward to today. I haven’t been excited about social media since 2014. I’m an early adopter so as soon as the networks got flooded with the mainstream market they became less shiny. Until now.

Recently, I’ve found myself spending an increasing amount of time on Clubhouse, a new invite-only social media network whose economy is based on contributing value. The apps prime value proposition is its gift economy that focuses on giving and receiving value to and from your tribe. In Clubhouse, value has a broad definition from being able to promote your business to having the opportunity to be heard in a community. A community that in a short amount of time becomes tribe.

And what I’ve noticed is that this tribe is creating a safe space for those diagnosed with mental illness to share tools, resources and medical professionals in a geo-neutral, free economy. And that is a game changer for the future of mental illness.

Before COVID 792 million people around the globe were living with a mental health diagnosis. Did you know…”during June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.” [Source:CDC] We may not understand the full impact of the Pandemic on our mental health for years to come, but it’s clear there has been one.

Here are 6 ways I’ve seen Clubhouse become a safe space for those diagnosed with a mental illness.

Clubhouse is inspiring a global conversation about mental wellness

One of the beauties of Clubhouse is the gamified nature of unlocking rooms based on your interests. Clearly, I’m interested in mental health and as such I have been participating in the conversation. Conversations about mental wellness help bring illness out of the shadows and into the light so that a proper diagnosis can be made. How many people do you suspect are living with mental illness and it’s in their blind spot? And what about all those people who don’t have a mental illness but have someone gaslighting them in their lives? A lot of the conversation around mental illness in other communities focuses on medical literature. But in Clubhouse there are real people sharing their stories and the truth of mental wellness is becoming clear. It’s a global conversation. The diversity of conversation across the globe is opening up the conversation to a whole new level. And that’s helpful for those who’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness to know they aren’t alone.

And the even better outcome I’m witnessing is that Clubhouse is connecting tribe. All around the world. In a global conversation. About something riddled with taboo. One of the key indicators for depression and suicide is how connected a person feels. Clubhouse might be a solution to the feeling of disconnection that has resulted from the Pandemic.

This borderless conversation is NOW, 24/7, 7 days a week

As people start sharing how they’ve been feeling, how they’ve been coping and how they’ve been thriving something magical is happening. A transformative and healing movement is being created. And the best part is that the conversation has no borders, no time zones, no censorship. They simply exist in the now. And no other time than now.

And yet, while many feel the anxiety of FOMO is the beauty of what will keep people on Clubhouse, my sense is telling me that the consistency of always-on value will ultimately balance the FOMO. I mean, yeah you may not want to miss it when Elon is on I get it. But if every time you log on one of your heroes is having a session or you can find a small tribe to have a conversation with, you ultimately will keep coming back more. This consistency of value, I believe, will lead to a better lifetime value for the app.

Where’s the power in now? Just yesterday morning, in a room hosted by conversation agent, Jeremiah Owyang this became incredibly real.

We were in a room in a deep discussion on the values and ethics in this thought provoking question, “Sometime in the future you have the opportunity to upgrade your kids…would you?” Suddenly one of the speakers chimed in and announced, hey I’m in Tokyo and we’re having an earthquake. It’s bigger than we’ve had in awhile. The panel reminded him to stay safe and then the conversation continued. Turns out it was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake and I witnessed someone’s immediate emotional response and how they found their way back to calm. I witnessed mental wellness in action. And yet, not a single piece of it was planned. That is a powerful experience for someone like myself.

It happened because I was there, fully present in the NOW. And that’s the beauty of ClubHouse.

The conversation are respectful and have boundaries that create safety for the community

One thing Clubhouse is doing exceptionally well is creating SAFE spaces for taboo conversations. I’ll be honest. After the last election, I wasn’t convinced civil discourse could be a reality any time soon. Yet, in these rooms I hear people sharing from the depths of their souls and they only do that when they feel safe. So what is ClubHouse doing to help people feel safe?

Moderators enforce community guidelines and have strong core values around not allowing trauma dumping. This avoidance of triggering audience members potentially leaving them in an unsafe space is important to keep the rest of the community safe. Yesterday, I heard an explanation to why this matters that really blew me away. The Clubhouse community is looking for people who are telling their stories to add value to the audience, period. If the come from place isn’t to add value, the community self manages getting the person off the stage with a community of highly skilled conversation moderators.

This matters because Clubhouse doesn’t offer in-app messaging and moderators are expected to be conscious of the safety of their communities. The gentle language used by moderators to gracefully transition speakers, hold space for questions and deal with newbies who may not have learned the etiquette is incredibly impressive. On Clubhouse all are welcome. But you are expected to be a grown up and play by the rules.

The conversations are closing the gap between professional expert and life experience expert

There’s another important thing happening on Clubhouse that affects mental health. There are a couple of types of rooms I find myself in. Some are conversations about mental health that are led by psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors and neuroscientists. They are fascinating and have taught me a lot about the health care perspective. I call these Rooms of Experts. Then there are rooms with no experts, just people sharing their real life stories and real life tips. And of course, there are hybrid rooms. I have found extensive value in all three of these room types. But I think it’s doing something even more important than providing value.

It’s closing the gap on healthcare. These doctors don’t ask for your health insurance before they give you their advice. These stories help a person find the non-medical tools that make the difference for daily management. And in the hybrid rooms, I’m seeing the walls between health provider and patient come down.

Something interesting is happening in these rooms. Doctors are showing up and sharing their own diagnoses. In Clubhouse the Doctor may be the expert. But they can also be the experiencer. And that is a different kind of healthcare. That is a different level of conversation and a different level of trust in someone’s advice.

The conversations include real stories from real people who are in the trenches, right now

Look, sometimes we’ve got to be in the trenches with it. That’s just where our journey takes us. And when it does we want to get out as fast as possible. The challenge is often the feeling of shame and desire to isolate that often comes during a time of unwellness. In those times, what I need is tribe, inspiration and a belief in myself again. What I love about Clubhouse is that people are sharing their REAL stories, not just on the other side of their struggle, but while their in the struggle of it. The stories are inspirational and the tips are legitimately helping.

The conversations are led by moderators who are masters at holding space and facilitating boundaries, which is incredibly important. Everyone is aware that it’s possible for someone in the room to be in a place of crisis. As such, the community moderators have become experts in managing the conversation and providing outlets for others who need help.

The conversation is bringing taboo out of it’s shadows

The thing I find most exciting about all of this is that Clubhouse has created a forum for like-minded people to gather and talk about difficult stuff. One of the things I learned while running a community of over 1 million people who were talking about debt is how powerful a safe space for the tough conversations is. But the community on Clubhouse did it. And they did it all on their own. What’s important to understand is that Clubhouse doesn’t decide what the topics of the room are, the community does. And they’ve decided that mental health matters.

The conversations are facilitated in a way that is both effective and intimate. That’s a tough balance to strike, but they did it. Can you imagine a world where there is no taboo? Where we can openly talk about anything and have a civil discourse? For a long time I couldn’t. But after spending two weeks on Clubhouse, now I can.

In hindsight, Clubhouse’s recent boom in success seems obvious. We’ve been locked up in our houses. We haven’t had social connection. Rooms for people to gather seems like an obvious next step. But now that I’m experiencing it, I’ll be honest there’s no way the Executive Team at Clubhouse planned for this kind of potential impact. When you bring taboo out of the shadows something important happens. People begin to heal. And then they begin to thrive. That’s a ride I’m willing to take with Clubhouse. Are you?

*Clubhouse is an invite only app. If we’re friends and you want an invite, reach out. I usually have a few in hand.