ReachOut: Helping Today’s Youth

IMG_3060Next for our Client Spotlight series, we want to celebrate an organization that is having a positive influence on teens and young adults. With school back in full swing, organizations like ReachOut play an essential and, in some case, life changing role by providing support and information that can make a difference to individuals who are feeling pressure, stress or confusion during transformative times. Since February 2012, Metaverse Mod Squad has been a part of the moderation team. Today, we give a shout out to this innovative and valuable service for its tremendous positive impact on society as a whole.

What was the inspiration for ReachOut?  

JackHeathandNickIn 1992, ReachOut founder Jack Heath lost his cousin by suicide. As he grieved and reflected on the growing suicide rates in Australia, an idea was sparked that would transform the way young people found help, by harnessing the power of the Internet. The Inspire Foundation, now known as ReachOut Australia, was established in 1997 and became the world’s first online mental health service for young people.

Nearly a decade later, after contributing to a 56% reduction in youth suicide rates, Jack Heath partnered with The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit strategic consulting firm, to find out if this service was valuable in the U.S. Their independent assessment found no comparable service – despite the critical mental health needs of many young Americans and the staggering rates of depression and suicide. Consequently, ReachOut USA was established in 2007.

How has ReachOut grown over the years? launched in 2010, and after a two year national campaign run by the AdCouncil and sponsored by SAMHSA, called “We Can Help Us”, and robust programmatic sponsorship for the discussion forums from Prop. 63 funding, distributed by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), ReachOut has grown to over 1.7 million U.S. visits/year, and over 18,000 forum members. In addition to the site providing fact sheets, stories, videos and discussion forums, ReachOut USA has over 500,000 social media followers, a youth speakers bureau and online safety trainings.

What impact do you believe ReachOut has had on teens and young adults?  

ReachOut provides something unique on the Internet – a safe space for teens and young adults to discuss really vulnerable, sensitive stuff. The ReachOut forums are moderated to make sure the community is positive and supportive, while also being honest and real.

Based on user surveys, we know that ReachOut users have increased understanding of mental health issues, decreased stigma against people with mental illness, and increased intentions to seek professional help when needed.

What are some of the biggest issues teens and young adults face and what role does ReachOut play in helping them? 

Young people come to ReachOut to get support from each other for school stress, relationship issues, LGBTQ challenges, and struggles with family. They come to talk about depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health challenges. Many members have commented that ReachOut is the first place they have felt safe to tell the truth about what is going on inside. Having the experience of writing on the forums, feeling heard, and getting supportive responses often gives members the courage to talk to parents, counselors, and friends. ReachOut increases help-seeking behavior among young people struggling with mental health issues, so they can get the help they need before reaching crisis levels. We also provide information and resources, in the form of dozens of fact sheets and stories on topics from living with bipolar to sexual health to effective communication skills.

With the increase usage of social platforms, how has that impacted your business? Is bullying still the #1 reach they come to ReachOut?

ROVolunteersSocial media platforms enhance our engagement by converting followers to users, and broadening our reach. Studies show that youth are still disinclined from discussing sensitive issues, especially health related, on platforms like Facebook. Our users demonstrate that having a safe and anonymous space to discuss the struggles they are going through is very valuable compared to what they feel comfortable disclosing and discussing on social media. Users do describe difficulty with bullying, and more common discussions center on coping with anxiety, stress, and depression that coexist with school, relationships and family issues.

Are there times of the year that you see a spike in usage? When? Why do you think that is? 

We see spikes in usage in September/October/November and March/April/May –correlating with back to school and midterms/finals season. The stress and anxiety surrounding all the pressures that come with school – academics, social and peer pressure, and family dynamics tend to feel most intense during these time periods for youth. They find catharsis and empathy in expressing these feelings and concerns in the forums and being heard by their peers.

On a daily basis, when is your peak times? 

Our peak hours are the after-school periods from 4p – 9p, and that is when we concentrate our dedicated moderation.

How do you manage your forums, specifically make them an environment that young adults feel safe and in a trusted community?  

We put a lot of work, effort and strategy behind creating a safe, non-judgmental and open environment in the forums. We encourage dialogue between users, with a model that provides empathy and also stimulates engagement through inquiry/question asking. We have thorough protocols that our moderators follow, that prioritize the safety and welfare of our members. Our moderators have a keen sense of what is genuine and enriching for the community, and what may be toxic or harmful. Metaverse Mod Squad does an excellent job of keeping the space as inclusive as possible, while being sensitive to the needs of the members.


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