Barely a year after its launch, the Canadian website BeThere.org, an education tool that helps youth recognize when a peer is struggling with mental-health issues and shows them how to offer the best support, has won a Webby Award as the top health website in the world.
BeThere.org is a program run by Jack.org, a national charity started by the husband-and-wife duo of Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington in 2010 to honour their eldest son Jack, who died by suicide in March of that year when he was a first-year student at Queen’s University.
“Winning awards isn’t what we aim for, but it is a real milestone that demonstrates the progress that our staff and team of 3,000 youth volunteers have made in the last decade,” says Hanington, who adds that youth mental health was barely a blip on the public’s radar when they founded the charity.
Windeler says the idea for BeThere.org came after Jack.org surveyed 1,000 young people across Canada. The results showed 83 per cent had supported a friend struggling with their mental health, yet only 39 per cent of them felt they were prepared to offer the support needed.
“When we first started the website, there wasn’t much to compete against in terms of engaging content,” Windeler says. “We found lots of great mental-health content, but it was buried under PDFs, academic language and medical jargon. We set about creating a visual and interactive resource that was easy to understand and engaging.”
The Webby Awards, which recognize the best on the internet, were handed out May 19 during a star-studded online broadcast that included (at-home) presenters such as Michelle Obama and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
BeThere.org now has more than 260,000 unique visitors from across Canada, the United States and Britain. However, the level of American youth engagement with the website is expected to increase exponentially after it was announced last week that Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which is committed to helping the wellness of young people, had partnered with Jack.org to launch the #BeKindBeThere initiative to direct people to the BeThere website.
The Born This Way Foundation found 74 per cent of young people in the U.S. said they are interested in resources to help them support their friends’ mental health, yet approximately one in three youth said they lacked reliable access to resources to support their mental wellness.
As Windeler notes, suicide is still the leading health-related cause of death for young people in Canada, with one in seven reporting having suicidal thoughts, to say nothing of the ones who don’t report. This year, 150,000 will act on their thoughts by attempting suicide and, for hundreds of them, the attempt will be fatal, he adds.
“We were a happy, healthy family in 2010 when Jack went off to Queen’s for his first year. We didn’t know he was struggling, and we lost him,” Hanington says. “We felt his loss vividly and clearly. We’re proud of how far the charity Jack.org has come, but it’s still not enough. We’ve only started to touch the tsunami of support and skills that are needed.”
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