New online platform Togetherall provides peer support for mental health

By Madison Dean, Staff Writer

For some college students, finding the time and motivation to talk to a therapist can be challenging. Sometimes, students find that talking about their mental health virtually and with other peers their age can feel less intimidating. 

The University Counseling Center recently launched Togetherall on February 1, a free and anonymous online peer-to-peer support platform. By signing up with their school email, Pitt students have access to a 24/7 support community monitored by licensed mental health practitioners called “Wall Guides.”

Matthew McEvoy, president of Togetherall, said the peer support model of the platform is a way to address mental health concerns of students in higher education that “have grown significantly over the past few years.” 

“Institutions need to continue to develop clinical capacity alongside population health approaches including peer support to reach more students,” McEvoy said. “By partnering with Togetherall, the University of Pittsburgh ensures that its students have access to a mental health resource they can trust to be safe, anonymous, nonjudgmental and all-inclusive.”  

Bernadette Smith, associate director of outreach at the University Counseling Center, said Togetherall provides students a “range of activities” that allows them to target their current mental health struggles while communicating with other anonymous students. 

“In addition to Togetherall’s online community, you will have access to a wealth of useful resources and can work through tailored self-help courses covering topics such as anxiety, sleep, depression and many more,” Smith said. 

Lauren Hallion, an assistant professor of psychology, said anonymity on the platform, when monitored by clinicians, can help students express their emotions and concerns more easily. 

“So sometimes people can use anonymity as a shield for certain harmful behavior,” Hallion said. “When that risk is mitigated by clinician monitoring, the anonymity may be helpful in letting people speak more freely about the concerns.” 

Talkabout posts allow “fellow members to share and discuss what’s on your mind, gain support and advice,” according to Smith. These posts can be submitted to the community forum, personal groups, or “one-to-one” chats. Students can also draw and upload images to express their feelings through Bricks. 

Togetherall also provides information to users through the courses and resources options. Students can enroll in self-help courses within the platform, set and track goals and access support articles about mental health and wellness. 

Togetherall has more than 4.6 million users, according to Smith. With the platform continuously moderated by clinicians, students can connect with their peers and discuss mental health topics, such as those related to challenges specific to college, day and night. 

Sophia Choukas-Bradley, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Teen and Young Adult Lab, said social support from a “broader community” can help young college students manage mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. 

“Because teens and young adults are at heightened risk for these mental health concerns, and because social relationships are especially strongly linked to mental health during this time in our lives, seeking help is especially critical,” Choukas-Bradley said. 

Choukas-Bradley also said while community support is helpful, mental health forums can be a “double-edged sword” and possibly worsen a student’s mental health struggles. She suggests reaching out to trained mental health professionals in addition to speaking with online communities. 

“Sometimes these forums help, but sometimes they can feel like a bandaid for a bigger wound that requires professional treatment from providers trained in evidence-based therapies,” Choukas-Bradley said. “It’s really important to view online forums as one step in seeking help but not the only or final step.”

If students are experiencing serious mental health concerns, Smith encourages them to reach out to the University Counseling Center to speak with clinicians in-person or virtually. 

Although therapy services are offered to Pitt students, the feelings of community and belonging can be difficult to find within a therapist’s office or through one-on-one conversations. Smith said that the University implemented Togetherall to provide another level of support for students that was “accessible and effective.” 

“We recognize the importance of feeling connected and understood, of having someone say ‘I get it and I am here for you,’” Smith said.