Information Technology in healthcare is taking a new dimension with school counsellors trying to use social networking sites to reach out to students suffering from depression and the like. When Tim Snelgrove was in the seventh grade, his life began spiralling out of control.
"It was kind of lots of things going on," says Snelgrove, 15, who lives just outside Calgary. "I had some pretty deep depression."
A school guidance counsellor noticed that he needed help, and after a few stints in the hospital and with the help of a good counsellor, he found his way.
Wanting to help others from getting that close to the edge, Snelgrove started the Facebook group "Teens against suicide." In the past eight months, more than 2,200 people have joined, and hundreds of messages have been posted.
And as counsellors are noticing a reluctance on their young patients' part to get involved in traditional forms of therapy, they're wondering how they can use technology to reach out.
"Youth do not as liberally access support services face-to-face," says Connie Barlow, a counselling psychologist and a professor at the University of Calgary.
Liz Hides, a grief counsellor with suicide services at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Calgary, says her group just finished doing a needs assessment for people between the ages of 17 and 24 after noticing they didn't fit into the group's traditional services.
"They are very unique in their grief needs," Hides said, adding teens seem to want a mix of face-to-face counselling, peer support, and books. Some also need a sense of anonymity that comes with being online.
Hides says they're currently trying to figure out how to incorporate new media into ways teens can get professional support, as well as get across the message that grief counselling can look like whatever a teen needs.
"There's a lot of ignorance about what counselling looks like," said Hides of the result of the survey. "They think they have to come and lie on a couch."
Online counselling, or e-counselling, has been around for years, says Hides, but the counselling community is just beginning to look at other ways to use the internet to help.
Options include podcasts, webinars and search engines geared towards specific topics. She points out an example of a podcast set up by the Toronto chapter of the Bereaved Families of Ontario in which teens talk about what it felt like for them to lose someone they loved.
"They're just starting to become more accessible," says Hides.
Jennifer Thannhauser, a student working with Barlow, is in the midst of a project that will allow teens with multiple sclerosis to express how they feel on a blog. Thannhauser, who is working towards a PhD in counselling psychology, originally tried to get the teens to open up one-on-one.
"Interviews with an adolescent and an adult don't work very well."
The teens will be able to communicate with her and each other through the blog, but will also be able to keep up a sense of privacy.
"It provides anonymity, and for teens that's really important."
Snelgrove says when he was in the depth of his depression, he was too scared to tell anyone and too deep in his own mind to realize his family was trying to help.
"When I was in that state, it was just like 'Block it out, block it out.' "
He says that his Facebook group can be a good way for people to test out the idea of reaching out for help without having to open up to people they know — but adds he always recommends that people seek professional help as the next step.
Thannhauser says counsellors need to pay attention to such ways that teens are choosing to express their emotions, and work with them, CBC reported.
"If we're going to connect with teens, then it's important to use methods that they use as opposed to having them connect with us through whatever method we use," she says.
"It's moving into their culture as opposed to asking teens to move into adult culture."