Online lifeline: making chatrooms a place of positive action
When they realised their brother Cormac was using chatrooms before his suicide, Oisín and Diarmuid Scollard set about creating a positive online space to address mental ill-health
Brothers Diarmuid and Oisín Scollard, who founded Turn2Me.org
For Oisín and Diarmuid Scollard, their brother Cormac’s suicide, in 2003, set them on a professional path they never thought they would take, but one that is having a hugely positive impact on the mental health of others.
“There was a big period of all the guilt and anger that happens when you go through a suicide, and that was a difficult process. It took a lot longer to get through, longer that I thought it would,” Diarmuid says about dealing with Cormac’s death.
Gradually, he and his older brother Diarmuid, from Terenure, in Dublin, began floating the idea of something to do with mental health online.
Diarmuid owns a creative agency, Design Minds, and Oisín has a tech background (he works for Google) but is also a lawyer and was practising when they set up turn2me.org, a nonprofit mental-health website that is pushing the boundaries of service provision in mental health.
When it comes to the impact of online communication on mental health, the internet is generally in the bad books. Cyberbullying – the catch-all phrase encompassing the social pressures of Facebook, compulsive use of social media, Twitter feuds, chatroom arguments, anonymous spiteful comments, trolling and aggressive discourse – can make the internet a hard place to communicate.
But spaces also exist that can benefit mental health. Turn2me provides online peer support groups and web-based one-to-one counselling sessions. It also offers a mood-tracking tool called Thought Catcher. Services are provided at low-cost or free, depending on what the user can afford, and professionals also engage with the website and contribute to a more informed discussion about mental health.
Over the years, chatrooms have been criticised for offering wayward advice about everything from the most benign medical problems to eating disorders and depression.
The Scollards set out to change that when they realised Cormac was using chatrooms that were “unmoderated and unregulated and didn’t have any professionals”, Oisín says. “When the unfortunate happened, we both said to ourselves that we wanted to do something in the online space. We started this thing off with no money, we didn’t know what we were doing.”
There were naysayers at the beginning. “We met a couple of people and they all said that it’s really risky to get into online mental health, that there are too many challenges.” The brothers stuck to their vision, at first building a website as a peer forum, quickly growing in membership, with people attracted to the anonymity of the forum and the accessibility of discussing their issues online as an easier first stop to getting help and support.
Now, 25,000 registered members make it one of the biggest forums for mental health globally. Although members come from 167 countries, the bulk of the traffic is coming from Ireland, with Scotland, England, Canada and South Africa also prominent. Users cross demographics, with 45 per cent male, and a third aged 18-25. Supporters came on board over the years – Google, Vodafone, the Arthur Guinness Fund and more – allowing turn2me.org to offer professional counselling through video or text chat.
Cathal Keegan is a registered counselling psychologist with Turn2me. He runs daily online support groups and is one of the professionals taking part in eight free counselling sessions as part of the Engage Programme.