AM By Sarah Dingle
The Australian founder of a free social media application that provides mental health support says he cannot afford to keep it going.
Jamie Druitt, a real estate agent from Adelaide, created TalkLife after a going through a relationship breakdown and wishing he could talk to someone experiencing the same situation.
“I didn’t have too many options or people to talk to about what was really going on, what I was really feeling,” he said.
“I thought at the time that if I was feeling like that, then there must have been plenty of other people that are going through more serious things that don’t have anyone to talk to.”
One year after it was launched, the volunteer-run TalkLife forum has more than 16,000 users from 120 countries – the majority of them teenagers.
There are no albums of happy snaps or ‘like’ buttons. For its users, the standout feature of the application is the ability to post a status update about what is really going on.
Mr Druitt, who runs the forum with four friends, says he has spent about $45,000 of his own money on the app so far but he cannot afford to keep that going.
“We’re just a bunch of young guys that are working and sort of meet late at night,” he said.
Audio: TalkLife application facing closure (AM)
“We work on updates until early in the morning. It’s just a bunch of volunteers really, and we’re all just passionate about the same thing.
“We’re just trying to come up with different strategies to pay the bills and keep the thing running.”
Mr Druitt says TalkLife is moderated by trusted members of the community around the world.
He says that he is determined not to sell the application, but its international aspect makes seeking government funding difficult.
Kids at risk
More than half of TalkLife users are aged between 13 and 17, and none of them hold back.
“The content going through TalkLife … some of it would blow your mind,” Mr Druitt said.
“When I started TalkLife I had no idea what kids were really going through.
“Self-harming is incredible, and it’s something that is going through all of our schools.”
TalkLife has guidelines about being a safe and accepting space, and users comment on each other’s posts to offer advice or support.
“My best friend just nearly committed suicide and I’m not there to hug her or tell her it’s all gonna be okay,” writes one TalkLife user.
“Can’t sleep. I’m used to cutting before I sleep and now that I’m trying to stop I’m finding it hard, what should I do so that I don’t cut?” writes another.
Jane Burns is the head of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, which examines ways to use technology to improve young people’s mental health.
She says TalkLife’s ability to get young people talking is great, but is concerned that the international success of the application means users are not referred to specific professional mental health services.
“If they’re engaging in this then there is clearly a need but we want to do it in a way that’s safe and it supports young people when they’re at their most challenging times,” she said.
“You don’t want to create a group of young people who feel that they can only rely on each other in that community and not think about well, what are the services that are available.
“Suicide contagion is real. It’s a thing that happens that people who are at risk who hear about it, it can trigger bad feelings, bad thoughts.”