Health IT

Startup building social network to support mental health community

One of the problems people face when they suffer from a mental illness is the sense of isolation that comes with it. Although it started off as an entry for a recent code-a-thon held by Health Technology Forum to support underserved patients, the developers of the website called Peer.–set up to be a social network […]

One of the problems people face when they suffer from a mental illness is the sense of isolation that comes with it. Although it started off as an entry for a recent code-a-thon held by Health Technology Forum to support underserved patients, the developers of the website called Peer.–set up to be a social network for people grappling with behavioral health issues–are moving the website forward.

The core of the website is the Peer Support Chat Network. The idea behind the online support group is that users can log in and use it to communicate by video, audio or text with peers who have similar backgrounds or interests. Users can view groups organized by common mental health symptoms, along with broader emotional, spiritual or general life issues. Once they choose a group, they are assigned another person on the network to speak with, either randomly or by a personal selection.

Among the groups are depression, acute conditions, anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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Paul Bloch and Tom Huston are behind the website. They are continuing to tinker with it and are working with different groups to evaluate how people can utilize the site and what needs to be improved. Until the network goes live, it is currently using Twitter (@YourPeers) and Facebook to continue to build the community.

“It is literally to fill the support gap, but the treatment gap is huge,” said Bloch. “What we have is a population which doesn’t have access to care or a support network. …We should be really angry about the state of mental health in the US and be active about doing something about it.”

About 25 percent of all adults in the U.S. have a mental illness and nearly 50 percent of adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetimes, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2011 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness drew attention to the extent to which states have cut back funding for non-Medicaid mental health services.