In the wake of all the discussion about depression and suicide this past week, Whisper founders Michael Heyward and Brad Brooks announced they are starting a $1 million endowment for Whisper’s separate nonprofit entity Your Voice. Whisper also announced that Your Voice morphs today into a new digital platform for Whisper users and others to share their struggles in the hopes of letting others know they are not alone.
Your Voice launched as an information site for depression and suicide prevention back in 2012. Troubling messages about self-harm and suicidal thoughts kept popping up on the mobile network for sharing secrets. This was a serious concern to Brooks who says Your Voice was created as Whisper’s answer to those types of posts.
“People who call a suicide prevention hotline are more likely to get help. They’ll probably make it,” says Brooks. “We needed to create a way to let others know they are not alone,” he explains. The new platform will let individuals upload video testimonials about their struggles with a host of issues, including anxiety, depression, suicide, stress management, body image, eating disorders, sexuality, bullying and sexual abuse.
It’s a bit of an odd juxtaposition against the nature of the Whisper app. Everything on Whisper is posted anonymously. This new platform asks people to be open about their struggles. “We believe that sharing and human connection can make all the difference, but unfortunately, 75 percent of young adults never reach out for help,” Your Voice director and licensed therapist Nicole Brooks says. She explains that is why the app and the nonprofit are kept separate. “We need to keep the integrity of the app intact,” Brooks tells me.
Another anonymous social app, Secret, doesn’t go so far as to have a separate nonprofit to direct others to but it does encourage people to flag content that is dangerous and reminds the community to “say something kind” as an address to potential bullying in posts. Members from the community have also posted from time to time to ask people to reach out to a suicide hotline or to call their friends.
Secret’s Community Guidelines also warn users not to bully or make posts that encourage self-harm. Co-founder David Byttow tells me troubling posts about suicide is something that has also been discussed and that it’s an area Secret “…will continue to invest in, among many others.”
Other social media sites such as Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr all have stated policies for dealing with troubling messages as well. Pinterest is one that takes a hard line when it comes to darker pins that allude to risk of harm or of the proana/thinspo nature. The company posted a revised Acceptable Use Policy a year ago to reinforce intolerance for posts that encourage dangerous behaviors.
However, setting policies and removing pictures of anorexic models or suicide is much different than reaching out to the poster to get them the help they need. The problem is, many depressed people report feeling ashamed they are depressed. According to HealthLine, over 80 percent of those struggling with depression don’t seek out help. Depressed people report feeling ashamed and the need to look happy when they are not.
While Whisper and Your Voice don’t exactly address how they will get those suffering to share openly about their experiences, both say this is an important step in helping people recognize they don’t have to go it alone. “Our message is simple,” says Brooks. “Your voice is our voice.”