Access to mental health support is primarily in-person. However, with today’s changing tide with the rise of online solutions, why hasn’t the general population embraced initiatives towards online mental support?
Teens and young adults don’t necessarily see the stigma that the older generation faces with mental illness, but often resist in-person support. As this demographic spends more time on their mobile device, psychologists and psychiatrists have seen an influx of their patients turn to the web.
According to Mike Likier, PhD, ACT, Psychologist, Diplomat, Academy of Cognitive Therapy, “In my interactions with college students, I’ve heard many say ‘I don’t want to be seen walking up those steps to the counseling center’ out of fear of being judged. As far as we’ve come with reducing stigma, we’re not there yet. Online support groups could serve as a bridge to get those folks to the help they need, or at least provide a forum for a deeper level of conversation that may not be available with their current peer group.”
Online support around mental health is currently not the norm. However, a number of therapy support groups have begun to pop up. One non-profit Crisis Text Line, offers free text support. They have reported that 75% of its users are younger than 25, with the majority between 14 and 17 years old.¹ The data speaks, so why hasn’t the mental health community shifted online?
As someone who has lost close friends to mental illness, I have dedicated myself to provide support. My close family friend Louis passed away after struggling for 3 years with Schizoaffective disorder / bipolar type 1. The onset of Louis’ psychosis occurred when he was 19, first hospitalized in October 2014. From childhood through high school, Louis was happy, athletic, musically gifted, made friends easily, and achieved outstanding academic success. He was subsequently hospitalized three more times for durations of several weeks to months.
In March of 2017, Louis once again rejected therapy due to medication side effects along with non-acceptance of his condition, making it nearly impossible to manage. Two months later, in the throes of psychosis, he did not understand the danger posed by the nearby river. It is presumed that he perished on June 4, 2017.
Following his passing, I wanted to do more. I teamed up with one of my closest friends, David Markovich who has an expertise in online community building, growing his digital marketing community Online Geniuses to over 10,000 members and running events in over 23 countries. We have now built an online community around mental health called 18percent.org. At any given moment, 18 percent of the United States population, suffers from some mental illness.²
18percent’s goal is for members to learn from valuable resources, make long lasting friendships, and share their story. We aspire to be the largest online community for people struggling with mental illness with a long-term mission to end the stigma of mental illness.
According to Wendy Feinman, School Psychologist, “Social media has become one of the preferred ways that teen-agers communicate with each other. Many students are hesitant to reach out for formal counseling, but may be willing to reach out to online sites to get advice about problems. High school students have voiced that they would like there to be more suicide prevention that can reach their peers who are troubled. A Suicide Prevention group that is coupled with a suicide hotline may be one vehicle to help youth who experience suicidal ideation or other mental health problems. This site would need to be carefully monitored, be able to provide good support for students, and provide appropriate guidance.”
18percent is hosted on Slack, an internal chat service that offers “channels” for community members to hang out and spark conversation. All emails are hidden, protecting anonymity. Moderating is key for this community to offer a safe environment and avoid such issues such as cyber bullying. 18percent has begun to recruit volunteers to moderate the site with the plan to team up with the Suicide Hotline, to provide around the clock moderators.
To our excitement, 18percent has become more than a community focused around mental health. It is a group of people who are building real relationships, sharing their emotional challenges, and to our delight discussing their favorite artists, Netflix shows and weekend plans.