‘Social Media Warrior’ Nickalls ’14 Fights Mental Health Stigmas

By Susan Gettlin | June 28, 2017

Nearly anyone who scrolls through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms has seen posts that address physical ailments, provide home remedies, and offer beauty or fitness tips. One area of health care, however, is often neglected in the social media sphere: mental wellness. 

In December 2015, Sammy Nickalls ’14 decided to work toward ending mental health stigmas with the social media campaign #TalkingAboutIt. 

“I saw my friend tweet that she had a cold and thought, ‘If I had a cold, I’d tweet about it—why am I not tweeting about my anxiety?’” explained Nickalls, who launched the movement seven months after graduating from Arcadia University with a Bachelor of Arts in Print Communication

While Nickalls’s resolution to speak openly about her struggles started with a simple hashtag, #TalkingAboutIt has expanded to include complex discussions about mental health diagnoses, treatment, and support. Nickalls maintained #TalkingAboutIt as she transitioned from freelance writer to full-time staff member at HelloGiggles, an online community focused on female empowerment that embraced the movement in articles about anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s become a community that has massively impacted not only my professional life and opportunities, but how I cope with my own anxiety and depression,” said Nickalls. “Knowing that I’m not alone makes it easier to go on, even during the hardest days. I’m committed to ending mental health stigmas because I truly believe starting with such a fundamental part of humanity is the solution to so many problems in our world.”

Since its inception, #TalkingAboutIt has achieved viral status, with organizations such as To Write Love On Her Arms—a nonprofit that supports individuals struggling with addiction, depression, and self-injury—promoting it. With tens of thousands using the hashtag, Nickalls was recognized by MTV News as one of “12 Social Media Warriors Who Helped Restore Our Faith in 2016.” 

Now the nights and weekend editor for Esquire, Nickalls covers pop culture, political, and breaking news for the magazine’s online publication, while maintaining projects geared toward strengthening the #TalkingAboutIt community. She’s also been approached to write a book on mental health awareness and organize opportunities for her followers to “talk about it” offline. 

2017 is going to be a big year for #TalkingAboutIt

“2017 is going to be a big year for #TalkingAboutIt,” said Nickalls. “I’m most excited about planning events with guest speakers to share funny, beautiful, and raw stories about mental health.” 

Nickalls, who often emphasizes the importance of friendship in her posts and publications, maintains that her health and wellness crusade was motivated in part by the relationships she formed as a student at Arcadia, while her journalism career was influenced by Associate Professor of Media and Communication Dr. Michael Dwyer and the staff of Loco Mag, a lifestyle magazine based on Arcadia’s campus. 

“The most important part of my Arcadia experience was the people I met there,” said Nickalls. “These connections are priceless to me. I really value my experience.”