Togetherall, an online peer support mental health service, has partnered with Fredericton’s two universities to complement existing counselling services.
The University of New Brunswick (UNB) and St. Thomas University are allowing their students to use the app, which features an open feed where users can post what they are going through as well as comment to support others. This function is open 24/7 with licensed clinicians monitoring the feed to respond to anyone in crisis.
“If somebody’s super nervous to take the first step … Togetherall is a really good first step in that direction where you can start having some of those conversations in a really safe and simple way and maybe that helps build confidence on the way to doing some other things,” said Brock Richardson, director of student services and residence life at STU.
Users are assigned random usernames upon sign-up and are anonymous to each other, which creates a safer place for people to share their stories or struggles.
The service also includes self-help courses, self-assessments and other learning resources.
“It is a peer-to-peer platform, but if there’s somebody in crisis or if somebody presents a problem too big … we’ll jump in and help,” said April Kennedy, director of counselling services at UNB.
“I think being anonymous reduces the feeling of risk and vulnerability while still offering connection,” said Kennedy.
The program is meant to be a complement to the growing mental health services available at both universities. According to Statistics Canada, just over 40 per cent of Canadian youth aged 15 to 24 reported excellent or very good mental health in 2020, compared to 62 per cent in 2018, making it the biggest drop in this demographic.
“I don’t want anyone to think we’re trying to fill the gap with an outside program. This is meant to be a service complement,” said Kennedy. She added that STU students are able to use all counselling services on the UNB campus.
Both directors believe that Togtherall can create a community for people who may feel alone and isolated otherwise. Sharing and finding others with the same struggles can help users — especially students.
“A program that’s full of other people who are not only experiencing mental health issues but are also going to university … I think it’s just going to be really powerful for that sense of empathy and connection,” said Richardson.
Since October, when the program became an option for students, anecdotal usage hasn’t been accessible to Richardson and Kennedy. They both hope the word spreads and more students begin using Togetherall.
“It might be for someone, and it might not. We’re going to try this for a year and we’re going to look at the data … and we’ll decide from there if it was helpful or not,” said Kennedy.