Therapy Elmo? Social media manager weighs in on Elmo's inadvertent mental health check

A close-up on Elmo, the red muppet with an orange nose who stars in "Sesame Street"
Elmo's viral tweet checking in on friends was written by his 25-year-old social media manager, who was also involved with the "Sesame Street" star's viral 2022 feud with a pet rock. (Victoria Will / Associated Press)

In its effort to seek comfort from an iconic childhood friend, the Internet almost broke Elmo.

The "Sesame Street" star's viral tweet checking in on everyone this week was written by his 25-year-old social media manager, who inadvertently turned X (formerly Twitter) into a therapist's couch where users opened up to the beloved Muppet — and the Internet — about their internal struggles.

For Christina Vittas — the Hoboken, N.J., resident who has worked with Sesame Workshop since 2019 — the response was "a whirlwind" she did not anticipate.

Read more: Elmo's innocuous check-in is met with 'existential dread' and mental health crises

The former intern who is now Sesame Workshop's social media manager told "Today" that she couldn't keep up with the replies to the iconic red muppet's innocent Jan. 29 tweet, which was met with the verbalization of X users' depressing internal monologues and spurred conversations about mental health around the globe, with nearly 200 million views to boot.

The well-meaning question — “Elmo is just checking in! How is everybody doing?" — opened the existential floodgates and elicited plenty of loaded responses, from the pithy to the concerning, weaving an overwhelming sense of dread throughout the thread. A constellation of celebrities, including Rachel Zegler, Dionne Warwick, Chance the Rapper and T-Pain, chimed in, as did Elmo's colorful “Sesame Street” neighbors and President Biden, who highlighted Elmo's follow-up tweet about checking in on friends.

Late-night host Stephen Colbert also gave the phenomenon "The Late Show" treatment Wednesday, debuting "Trauma Me Elmo" — a satirical take on the beloved Tickle Me Elmo toy that has morbidly "gained awareness of the inevitability of human suffering." It also weeps on command, Colbert said.

Jokes aside, the mental health crisis reached epidemic levels last year. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory on the nation's "epidemic of loneliness and isolation," noting that 1 in 2 adults in America reported experiencing loneliness even before the COVID-19 pandemic cut off so many people from friends, loved ones and their support systems in early 2020. In California, legislators this week put bipartisan support behind Proposition 1, a March primary ballot measure aimed at addressing the dire homelessness and mental health crises in the state.

So it's not surprise that back online, the Internet unpacked its emotional baggage and shared its collective anguish with an eternally 3½-year-old Muppet, with users citing personal and global issues among their debilitating concerns in a dark, digital therapy session.

"When managing Elmo’s social media, I am always looking for new ways for Elmo to connect with his friends online. This question felt like a natural fit for a loveable, caring friend like Elmo, especially as he learns more and more about his own emotional well-being," Vittas said Thursday in a statement to The Times.

She's grateful that the tweet has "opened up conversations about the serious mental health crisis in our country and thankful that here at Sesame Workshop, we can support children and families in this moment with our Emotional Wellbeing resources," she added. "Elmo did that. And if a three-and-a-half-year-old Muppet from Sesame Street can do that, why not any one of us, too?"

Vittas also told "Today" that she couldn't keep up with responding to the replies, which she regularly does to make users' days "a little bit brighter."

Read more: 'Sesame Street' makes history as first TV show to receive Kennedy Center Honor

Plenty of people also felt Vittas' unique pain that day, with X user Brittny Pierre (@sleep2dream) tweeting a gif of Kieran Culkin's Roman Roy in "Succession" being inundated with emails: "Elmo's social media manager reading all the responses like...," Pierre wrote.

That particular tweet hit home for Vittas.

"I really appreciate that personally,” she told "Today." "We all believe that Elmo is a living, breathing monster on Sesame Street, but there are people that understand that this is social media, there’s someone behind the scenes doing the work, and I felt a great response from the marketing community.”

Vittas channels the little red monster online by studying "Sesame Street" performer Ryan Dillon as well as the show's content, guest stars and company initiatives. Incidentally, this isn't her only claim to fame during her Elmo tenure. Vittas was also involved in Elmo's early 2022 rivalry with Rocco, the pet rock that belongs to Elmo's "Sesame Street" co-star Abby Cadabby.

"I thought it was never going to get better than Elmo and Rocco, and then this happened," Vittas said. "I feel like lightning did strike twice — and then some."

Elmo's simple question also got the “grown-ups” at Sesame Workshop to do the work behind the nonprofit's mission to help children "grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.”

Read more: Elmo — yes, that Elmo — is beefing with a rock. And Twitter is eating it up

“Leveraging the interest in Elmo’s tweet to posting the quote tweet from ‘Sesame Street’ with emotional wellbeing resources is exactly what Sesame Workshop was created to do,” Aaron Bisman, Sesame Workshop’s vice president of audience development, said Wednesday in a statement to The Times. “Many of our social posts are designed to make audiences smile or laugh, while others promote and share resources for children and their parents, caregivers, and loved ones who make up their circle of care.”

Bisman said his team helps Elmo and his "Sesame Street" friends with their social media accounts (there are 50 overall) and is mindful of their reach.

“[O]ur social media team is cognizant of the relationship that audiences have developed with the characters over the last 54 years. Elmo is the lovable furry monster audiences have a deep connection with and is a good friend asking you ‘how are you doing?’” Bisman said.

Sign up for L.A. Goes Out, a weekly newsletter about exploring and experiencing Los Angeles from the L.A. Times.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.