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Online counselling offers easy-to-reach support for depression and anxiety

Its proponents say it offers advantages over other services – but just how popular is e-therapy in Ireland? We talk to mental health support website Turn2Me.org.

Image: Shutterstock

CORMAC SCOLLARD SPENT many nights on online chatrooms shortly before he died by suicide in 2003.

They were, while unregulated, a constant source of support for him, according to his brother Oisin Scollard.

Turn2Me.org

Five years after Cormac’s death, Oisin and older brother Diarmuid set out to create a new kind of chatroom for people struggling with mental health issues.

Their online support platform, Turn2Me.org, now provides professional counselling to hundreds of people every month.

“We wanted to get people where they spend most of their time,” Oisin says. “People can get to us on their phone. If they don’t have broadband, they can log in with mobile data.”

Since the start of this year alone, Turn2Me.org has been accessed by some 71,200 unique users, delivered 825 sessions of one-on-one counselling, provided 1,150 people with online group supports and engaged with 2,200 people through its live chat service.

And it could soon be available offline, as the website is currently in talk with mobile networks to provide its services free for smartphone users without immediate access to the internet.

Three-tiered model

The site operates a three-tiered model that allows users to choose the service that best suits their needs.

The first tier provides access to articles, podcasts, a mood tracker and diary to help maintain positive mental health.

Users that opt for the second tier can avail of peer support through an anonymous live chat moderated by trained volunteers every evening.

The third tier allows users to access support groups facilitated by mental health professionals and a 10-week e-learning programme that teaches skills to deal with mild depression.

Registered members can also sign up to one-on-one counselling for up to €30 a session, about half the cost of a typical face-to-face appointment.

And over 90% of service users now receive access free therapy for up to eight weeks through the service, thanks to HSE funding.

Turn2meGIF

Online counselling, while not suitable for users who are at immediate risk of harming themselves, can be effective for people affected by stress, bereavement, relationship difficulties, and less severe forms of anxiety and depression, according to Oisin.

Loneliness is another big issue for those using the service, he says.

It tends to affect people in older demographics, above the age of 35, but it’s not necessarily gender based, as a lot of people would think. People who are lonely don’t always meet the definition of ‘alone’, with no partner or family. They could have people around them all the time but still be lonely because of other factors – like being LGBT, for example.

Growing popularity

Over half of its 30,000 registered users now access the site from mobile phones in Ireland, the UK, Europe, and as far away as Australia, Malaysia and South Africa.

But the service is not limited to the young, Oisin adds, with about a third of people accessing the site aged between 18 to 30, another third between 30 and 41, and a final third aged 42 or older.

Turn2Me’s clinical adviser, John Hickey, says that the growing popularity in online therapy, or e-therapy, is to be welcomed.

The advancement in technology combined with the high numbers who now own computers, laptops, iPads, smartphones and so forth has meant that there has [been more] acceptance of using technology to help us understand, improve and maintain positive mental health.

The advantage of online counselling, he says, is that clients may be able to express themselves more openly through a pseudonym or anonymous username – though Turn2Me can locate service users should the need arise.

The accessibility of online services also means that users can overcome geographical and physical barriers to treatment.

Text-based communication, Hickey adds, allows users to re-read responses from Turn2Me therapists, allowing them more time to process the content than verbal communication.

To donate €4 to Turn2Me.org, text LISTEN to 50300. 

Read: What I’ve learned through my career as a counsellor >

Read: Online counselling website receives HSE support >

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About the author:

Catherine Healy

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