A Mental Health App Saving Lives, One Slack Channel At a Time
When my roommate told me that our upstairs neighbor, David Markovich, started an online mental health community called 18percent with his longtime friend, Zach Schleien, I was all ears. As an avid mental health awareness advocate myself, I was keen on knowing how two under 30-year-olds turned an active digital platform used across workplaces worldwide into a thriving judgment-free support group. The reason these founders started 18percent is the reason I’m open about my own therapy sessions and anxiety medication — I’m passionate about making people feel less alone. But, even despite the myriads of outlets I’ve used to cope with my anxiety, I’ve never been part of an online mental health community until now.
So, with the help of Schleien and Markovich, I became a member of 18percent and learned about what inspired them to help the 18% of Americans who struggle with various mental health illnesses. “I became interested in mental health after going to more than one funeral due to suicide. I also felt like the stigma surrounding mental health was causing friends of mine not to get treatment,” David explained. As for Zach, his close family friend, Louis, passed away after struggling for 3 years with schizoaffective disorder/bipolar type 1. In his honor, Schleien, raised over $40,000 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), through crowdfunding. After accomplishing such a lofty goal, there was no stopping him from making an even bigger difference in the lives of those suffering the way Louis did.
And that’s when Zach, an IT Research and Developer for Johnson and Johnson, and David, an expert in online community building and the founder of a digital marketing community, Online Geniuses, teamed up to form a unique experience for anyone who needs an anonymous shoulder to lean on. “We never thought it would be as successful as it has been. The overall goal was to help people feel less alone and get the empathy that is often lacking,” the founder’s told me. I am now one of 2500 users, from the ages of 12 to 83, who use their life-changing service. If you’re thinking of joining too, here’s how it works.
1: Become a Community Member:
Whether you heard about the community through word of mouth (which, David explains, people are reluctant to reveal), or through Crisis Text Line, National Eating Disorders Association, and Project Heal (official partners of 18percent), you’ve taken the first step toward hanging out with new like-minded pals. Take a stroll through their website, and sign up with the disorders that resonate with you, here.
2: Find Your Tribe:
Pull up a seat! No one is here to judge you. There are even moderators (AKA bots) that oversee every conversation to ensure that all members follow the code of conduct. “18percent also has introduced automation to pick up many of the self-harm related keywords. The bot will then provide an action plan as well as resources such as the Crisis Text Line to get additional support,” Zach explains.
Jump to any thread of your choosing without worrying that your co-worker is peering over your shoulder. “Many people struggle during work, so it would be uncomfortable using Facebook or a mental health forum, app, or website during the day especially in a group for mental health. When using Slack during work people can walk by your desk and not think twice.”
From eating disorders and depression to anxiety and OCD, there are myriads of users partaking in life-saving discussions every day. When I entered the ‘Anxiety Channel,’ someone was sharing her B-average report card, obsessing over ‘not being good enough.’ Another spoke about being born to immigrant parents and not feeling understood or able to express his emotions. One user’s bio, with a huge smile plastered on his face, reads: “Just trying to be a little less sad every day.” Another uploaded a picture of her new pixie haircut, while several other users immediately flooded her post with compliments. One user named her anxiety Felicia, another named it Sam. I told the community that I call mine, The Devil. Someone sincerely responded: “I’m here for you.”
3: The Perks of 18percent:
Because the Slack platform offers users a 24/7 live chat, there’s no need to wait hours or more for someone to respond. “No other peer-to-peer community offers this. Most of our messages get answered in minutes. We’re 100% free and always will be. The community is also global, so if you are looking for support at 4 AM, someone from the other side of the world may be online,” Zach said. Most people flock to 18percent because they can’t afford therapy or they’re too scared to tell their parents that they’re struggling, or they simply want to speak to someone who understands what they’re going through. People who join aren’t just receiving words of healing, they’re giving it too. “Just this weekend I was private messaging with someone from the eating disorder channel that I moderate. This girl is SUFFERING and simultaneously supporting others on various channels. How powerful to be able to be able to give support AND receive support?” Robyn, a member, says proudly.
18percent is not meant to replace your therapist or prevent you from seeking medical professional advice. Their goal is to destigmatize mental health and slowly show users with various zip codes and Wifi providers, that they will never be alone.