Moving online out of the firing line
How online forums can help meet the needs of young people in distress
“We recognise a disclosure of distress can be cathartic and a considered, careful personalised response can be reassuring,” says Derek Chambers of Reachout.com.
“There will always be issues around the fostering of unhealthy [online] discussions which feed into further morbid thoughts. We pre-moderate online comments to avoid this happening,” he adds.
Fourteen online support organisations have formed a Technology and Wellbeing network to develop a collective voice on these issues.
A high level of drop-out within online mental health support services was noted by each service provider. Another area discussed was the establishment of protocols to escalate the response of emergency help services such as the Samaritans and gardaí if necessary.
‘Signals of suicide’
Oisín Scollard, founder of Turn2Me.org, says there are more people seeking help online and keeping them online is important.
“There are five groups of people who are on our services: those seeking social or emotional support; those looking for information; those in need of one-to-one counselling; those seeking to offer emotional or social support; and “support surfers” who read all the reactions,” he explains.
He believes a new algorithm needs to be developed to assess risk online. “We need to be able to track the duration and type of content online with times and dates alongside questions answered in surveys and notes from moderators so we can watch for signals of suicide.
“A person might be very annoyed if we report them to gardaí but the data protection acts are nullified when it comes to using personal information to contact someone in crisis,” says Scollard, who set up Turn2Me.org with his brother Diarmuid in memory of their brother Cormac, who died by suicide.
Another challenge will be how to integrate online and offline services. Traditionally, therapists haven’t been drawn to the online space.
However, Freji Petersen, counsellor with the Trinity College Student Counselling Service, says she interacts with students using SilverCloud Health online mental health programmes.
“Some students feel more empowered to use online supports because they can choose how and when they use it. There is an option for sharing their work with a counsellor which means I can check what they’ve read, how they’ve tracked their mood with a diary of thoughts, feelings, behaviours and I can write reviews with recommendations.”
See reachout.com for papers from the Technology for Wellbeing Conference.