Coming together for mental health: A new service & community

Anna DeNelsky, Contributing Writer

The University’s Counseling & Student Development Center (CSDC), the Division of Student Affairs and Bucknell Student Government (BSG)  are excited to collaborate with Togetherall, a clinically moderated, online peer-to-peer mental health community that empowers students to anonymously seek and provide support.

What is Togetherall?

Togetherall is an online service designed to help individuals with anxiety, depression and other common mental health issues. It strives to reduce the mental health stigma by encouraging individuals to seek help and draw strength from others with similar lived experiences through building a  healthy social network and a judgment-free community for users. The company was founded in the United Kingdom in 2007 with operations now in North America and New Zealand.

The combination of pandemic, academic and social stress experienced by students prompted the University to make Togetherall available to their students. The company reported that within the past year, engagement increased by 104 percent. 

Togetherall identifies “normalization” as an important starting point for students struggling with anxiety and combating isolation. They encourage individuals to find someone who has or had similar experiences and/or feelings. Togetherall also acknowledges that individuals who are surrounded by family and friends may still be combating feelings of isolation; they recognize that all feelings and circumstances as legitimate. 

A significant amount of research has gone into determining the effectiveness of peer-supported self-management. Research has revealed that discussion forums and collaborative social media platforms are promising resources in helping individuals to cope with their mental health. These studies can be found on Togetherall’s website. 

The company also aims to advance inclusion and diversity by providing accessible and equitable support for all students. Togetherall reports that forty percent of the platform’s user base identify as BIPOC. 

Who has access to Togetherall?

Togetherall is free to students and can be accessed 24/7, which is very useful given the current pandemic circumstances. Students can access the program through the Togetherall website using a valid student email with no formal referral needed. The business is currently supporting more than 250 organizations, including 150 institutions, and 2 million students are eligible to access Togetherall. 

According to Kelly Shaw, a psychologist at the University, the program is only accessible to students. Faculty and staff are encouraged to share this resource with their students and spread the word.

What does Togetherall offer?

Shaw agrees that the program is not a substitute for counseling, but it can be a useful  resource for students to receive ongoing support between sessions or to help students apply what they have discussed in counseling. It is also a good resource for students who have not yet attended counselling and are searching for a place to perhaps open up for the first time. 

Togetherall does not provide 1:1 counselling, nor is it intended to be a crisis service. There are other more equipped resources for someone who is in distress and it is not meant to replace any protocol that someone already has in place. “We take a population approach to mental health. Togetherall is for those who have less of a need for intervention, it is meant to help de-escalate issues before they snowball,” Victoria Senyard, the North American partnerships manager at Togetherall, said.

How does Togetherall work?

Students have access to a general chat forum where they can filter the content that they view by selecting different categories or types of posts. There are three different types of posts: a “talkabout,” which is a written post; a “brick,” which is a visual post; and a “group talkabout,” which is slightly more private than the talkabout. Users can follow threads by starring them and they will receive notifications when a new post or comment has been added to that thread. Self-help module-based courses — such as “coping with grief and loss” or “managing anger” — are also available to students. Additional resources such as self-assessments, self-guided courses and creative tools can also be utilized to help members express and track how they are feeling. 

The website is moderated by registered mental health practitioners known as “Wall Guides” who ensure individuals are kept safe and feel supported. The Wall Guides help to keep the community vibrant, encourage engagement and promote self-care and inclusivity. The system recognizes trigger words and flags posts to be reviewed; the Wall Guides, following a protocol, will work with the individual and will potentially involve professional help if needed.  If a user is showing signs of clinical risk, the user is connected to the crisis line “ProtoCall,” which acts as a safety net. However, Senyard reports that the number of times a post has reached this level of escalation is relatively low. Other members can also play an extra role in keeping the community safe — if they come across something offensive or if someone appears to be in need of help, they can flag the post to be reviewed by a Wall Guide. 

Note: Togetherall is not yet ready for student use, but students should be on the lookout for notifications regarding when it is live soon.

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