The counsellor is now online
Young people who are reluctant to discuss their mental-health problems face to face are turning to the web for support and information
THREE YEARS AGO Oisín Scollard set up a website he believes could have prevented the death of his brother, Cormac, had it been created earlier. Cormac, a 34-year-old sound engineer, took his own life in 2003, having been treated for depression and having regularly discussed his problems online. After Cormac’s death, however, Oisín felt that if his brother had found a more supportive and responsibly moderated environment, it might have made a difference.
“I think it would’ve helped Cormac realise that what he was going through was not abnormal. Often people with mental-health issues think their story is unique because they find it hard to get perspective. No one talks about it in this country, so how can you frame your own experience? I think the intensity of people’s difficulties becomes worse when they’ve no way of gauging whether anyone else feels the same way.”
Having founded Turn2me.org, a charity offering online mental-health support, Scollard, who is 34, and his brother Diarmuid, who is 49, are hoping to transform the options for people seeking psychological help in Ireland. For World Suicide Prevention Day, on Monday, Turn2Me is providing 24 hours of free online group sessions hosted by qualified psychologists, a service Scollard is hoping to expand pending further funding. (So far it has received money from the Arthur Guinness Fund and Vodafone’s World of Difference programme, and an advertising grant from Google.)
In the coming weeks the site is aiming to upgrade its one-to-one counselling sessions (charged at €50 for 50 minutes, to cover the costs of providing qualified psychologists) from email and instant messaging to video conferencing, in addition to its current provision of group sessions and an anonymous support forum moderated by volunteers.
Recent studies in Ireland, such as the My World Survey and Learning to Reach Out report, have found that young people are reluctant to pursue traditional avenues of mental-health support and are increasingly likely to turn to the internet, so there is a need to develop services online. Aware and Childline have already branched into online support groups and email-based services, but developing public forums and one-to-one online sessions poses difficulties.
“The internet is a crowded space where there’s lot of information but not a lot of coherency,” says Joseph Duffy of Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health. “The biggest issue is making sure it’s well monitored, that the people behind it are qualified and can provide good supervision, so that all clinical governance criteria is met. Sometimes with peer support, people are giving genuinely felt help but it mightn’t be well informed or they might not be able to see the seriousness of what someone else is saying, so it’s about monitoring these concerns.”