Liz Talago: Mental Health content writer and strategist
Can you introduce yourself and tell me about your current role?
My name is Liz Talago, and I’m a mental health tech content strategist. Most of my clients are start-ups who are leveraging tech to create more access to mental health care.
Can you tell us more about your website? What can people access on there?
Sure! My website is a great place to get to know me and the type of work I do. You can read about my background and check out my portfolio to review some of the projects I’m most proud of. I also have a blog, where I write about my work, mental health, and the industry as it continues to change and grow.
What inspired you to start working within the mental health industry?
I have a master’s in education and mental health and I worked directly with young people and their families for a long time. When I moved to Nashville, I was presented with an opportunity with the content marketing department of a large behavioural health organisation. While the corporate setting wasn’t a fit for me long-term, that is where I learned the discipline of content strategy and content marketing in mental and behavioural health.
At the time, that was somewhat of a very small niche, however, in the past few years – especially post COVID, the demand for this sort of thing has just grown exponentially. I’m really excited about all the growth that’s happening in my field.
What were your feelings about moving into a content role?
I wasn’t quite sure at first, I had a lot of difficult feelings around leaving direct service. I questioned whether what I would be doing in this new space would be as challenging and fulfilling as working directly with people. That was definitely a transition for me. I think there are a lot of providers and therapists and counsellors and other passionate experts who might be thinking about making that transition today. What I would say, is that it’s more than just switching careers. It really requires a mindset shift to see all the wonderful ways that you can apply your gifts in this space.
What would you say the biggest challenges have been that you have faced in your career so far?
I would say that it is the mindset shift I just mentioned. Coming out of a helping profession into a more strategy-driven and marketing world, is very different. I had to shift the way that I viewed my path toward providing services that made an impact. That took some time and there were some growing pains.
Another challenge I face is one I created myself. When I started my own business, I made a promise that I was only going to work with mission-driven, purpose-driven organisations that align with the standard of care that I believe people deserve. It isn’t always easy, but I try to vet each potential collaboration with a gut check and research to make sure the project is aligned for me.
If people are looking for new role, how do they then spot a company that aligns with their values?
If that is important to you, I would say you have to get really comfortable having conversations about some terms that are used a lot in our industry. These are things like ‘science backed’, ‘evidence based’, ‘patient first’ and ‘holistic’! As somebody who wants to help and serve others, all those sound great to me, I’m very drawn to them. But, we are at a point now in the industry where that language is losing its meaning.
So, it does take a little digging to ask strategic questions and find out what someone means when they use one of those terms. If someone welcomes that question, that tells you a lot! There isn’t always an easy answer to those questions, and nobody is getting it right all of the time, but their inquisitiveness around that, and how willing they are to engage in that conversation, for me has been very helpful in illuminating the core identity and purpose of the team that I might be working with.
How do you think the increased use of digital in healthcare, can help with mental health?
As we all know, there has been a provider shortage problem and an access problem for a very long time. This is more true depending on where you live geographically or if you’re in a more rural area. This is also more true if you are looking for mental healthcare services or psychiatric care for your child or your teen. With the onset of COVID, that problem has really expanded. But one of the few silver linings of COVID might be that we’ve started paying more close attention to our mental health and realising the importance of this. I think it greenlighted projects and funding that may have taken a little bit longer if it hadn’t turned out that way.
With so much growth, there are just so many more opportunities for someone to find quality mental health care. This includes care that they don’t have to drive to or that doesn’t require a 6-month waiting list. When we’re talking about the type of services that really impact the trajectory of someone’s life and their total wellbeing; that really matters.
We are also finding that when it comes to digital care, ‘no shows’ are way, way less common. I’m not sure most folks realise the widespread challenge of getting to in-person appointments under the best circumstances. And when you throw a mental health crisis in there, things can become even more challenging. With this digital care model, we’re finding a whole lot less no shows are happening. People are accessing care with a lot less friction and that ultimately is a really important component of enhancing our outcomes.
What would you like to see develop within the mental health industry over the next few years?
I would love a more increased focus on what the private sector is learning about how to do this really well; to be applied in the public sector. Finding ways to help more underserved and more marginalised communities that might not have ready access to psychiatric care or the ability to pay for private practice.
Even folks who have insurance, a lot of digital service providers aren’t billing insurance because we haven’t quite figured out that component yet. So, I would really love to find ways to apply what’s working in the private sector to the public health system.
You made the transition from mental health professional to mental health writer – how was that experience?
What I would say about that, is if you were already working with people, it might seem a little intimidating to do anything related to technology! But, by virtue of the fact that you are a trained listener, you are a skilled communicator, you know how to speak in a language that your patient or your client can hear you in a really kind, caring, and accepting way, you already have skills for content marketing; especially in mental health!
You might not understand all the bells and whistles of the Google algorithm or SEO, but that’s okay, you can learn that. What you do already know how to do, is talk about hard things to people in a way that they will want to listen and build trust with you. And ultimately that is what we’re here to do. I would encourage folks to lean into those strengths. For me, it was an asset that I didn’t realise I had right away; and it felt so natural to me. Finding ways to translate that into a written experience and the content experience was something that I found came pretty easily to me.
I can see in your blog you say that you thrive on data, how are you able to use this passion and skill for your current role?
I have this echoing sentiment in my ear from one of my advisors in grad school. He said to me, always be asking yourself how are things different because I am here? Which sounds so simple but was something that he wanted to teach us as baby mental health professionals; that it was important to always evaluate the effectiveness of what you are doing. And then to learn from that and apply that. I’m excited about finding opportunities to build those checks into a product and into the experience from the beginning.
Also closing those loops with data collection in subsequent versions, so we take those learnings and make their application just as important as any other part of the content strategy. How are we going to look at our users, and our population and connect with them and ask them how their experiences and their lives have shifted or changed since using our product or service? Also being prepared to possibly get some data that is not what we want to see and being okay with that and looking at that as a learning opportunity.
In general, I would encourage folks in the mental health world to not be so intimidated by data collection. So much of what we do is more qualitative than quantitative, and I think there is a bias that it is impossible to measure certain things. But there are ways of gauging improvement and asking if someone is more well because they engaged with what I’ve created. And I’m excited that that is becoming more of a part of what I’m doing.
What advice would you give to others looking to make a big career move?
Try and do an honest audit of the skills and strengths that you already have. And look for ways to apply those in new settings. But don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do that! Take some time to really sit with yourself and evaluate those things.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have had some really wonderful mentors and coaches throughout my career who have been supportive of me. You don’t have to be employed in tech to start talking to other people in the industry; joining communities, and asking questions. Most of us who are doing this work are really happy and excited to welcome new people into this field. I am often the only person on a product or marketing team that has any experience with direct mental healthcare. So that tells you that we are ready, and we need more people to do this work!
Finally, what is the best advice anyone has ever given you that you would like to share?
The advice to niche down. At first, when you are new, you are worried that if you do this one specific thing that there are only three people in the world who need that! People have this idea that if they do something too specific, that there was not going to be a big enough audience for them to make it a viable career. I would say that especially when we’re talking about something so critical like mental and behavioural healthcare, we need experts! We need people who care about data and who know how to deliver truly science-based care.
Within that, there are opportunities to niche down really as far as you want to go. Maybe it will take you some time to figure that out; but for me instead of being more of a healthcare generalist, I have found that once I made a decision to really stick with what I loved and what I know; which is mental healthcare in the digital space, that’s when I really saw my business grow!
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