App that helps others is in need of help
As Wall of Sharing, which assists suicidal teens, struggles to survive, sportswear giant Asics pitches in with donation campaign
The memory of the lack of available mental healthcare services that Dr Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch received as a teen and dental student inspired her to launch Ooca, an app that helps people with mental illness.
Dr Kanpassorn recalled her struggles with depression as a teen and the chronic insomnia she suffered as a student at the Faculty of Dentistry, Chiang Mai University. She sought help by calling the Mental Health Department 1323 hotline, but was disappointed by the negative responses. She realised Thai people were not open to the concept of mental illness.
Ooca was launched in 2017 to provide psychiatric help to people via video chats on mobile devices. The main clients of the app, available on iOS and Android, are corporations in the financial services, cryptocurrency and pharmaceutical industries, which provide mental health support to their employees.
"The current trend is that corporations take care of not only their employees' physical health, but also their mental health. If employees feel stress, they need support and help. Human resource departments can provide Ooca as company welfare," Kanpassorn said.
From her own experience, Kanpassorn decided to create a similar service for young people called Wall of Sharing, where young people can consult with psychologists and psychiatrists via video calls free of charge.
"Many young people encounter mental health issues; the suicide rate in young people is higher than the accident rate. Young people who do not have an income yet or are still under their parents' supervision should have the opportunity to access a free mental health service that does not require permission from their parents. I want to give them the platform to easily access a mental health service, so I launched Wall of Sharing," Kanpassorn explained.
According to a 2019 Department of Mental Health report, more than 300 young people aged 15 to 24 committed suicide per year. Among 100 patients with depression, 11 are teenagers. In 2018, from 200,000 calls to the 1323 hotline, 25% were young people. Main issues affecting young people include stress, love and relationships, sex or drug issues, depression, suicidal tendencies, aggressive behaviour and family issues.
Wallofsharing.com offers services to a wide range of young people, from junior high school students to university students and medical interns. These groups are the most vulnerable, Kanpassorn said. In June, there were two reports of student suicide -- a junior high school student and university student both committed suicide by jumping off their school buildings. And last year, a medical intern jumped out of his dormitory.
"Medical interns go through a tough time because they have to work in the countryside for long hours. Their salaries are always delayed and they experience a lot of overall stress. A medical instructor asked Wall of Sharing to help medical interns since the instructor did not want to see another suicide," said Kanpassorn.
Wall of Sharing services are free. Donations can be made at taejai.com to help cover the cost of the 470 baht sessions. Wall of Sharing focuses on psychology counselling via video calls.
"There are many methods of therapy. Counselling is a science and art where a psychiatrist or psychologist gradually help patients understand themselves as well as guide them to reach their own realisation. It is a process in psychology to resolve the problem," she said. Currently, medication prescriptions are not available online, but should be available soon.
During its early years, donations sustained Wall of Sharing allowing it to offer over 2,600 free sessions to young people. As of now the donations have been exhausted, so Kanpassorn has to draw finances from Ooca to support the service.
In the meantime, Asics, the footwear and sports apparel brand, is raising donations for Wall of Sharing through its "Asics 15:09 Uplift Challenge".
The campaign invites people to share a photo or a video clip of themselves exercising for 15.09 minutes on their Facebook, Instagram or TikTok accounts. The post must use the hashtags #LiveUplifted, #ASICSForWallofSharing or #ASICSTH, and the post must also challenge other people to do likewise. For each post, Asics will donate 159 baht to Wall of Sharing.
Kanpassorn hopes people will respond to the campaign so she can continue the service and help more people.
"I have never thought about giving up because I feel that this online platform can continue," she said. Kanpassorn is currently trying to establish a Wall of Sharing foundation, which would allow it to seek grants and other forms of financing. "The foundation application has been sent; we are waiting for approval."
For her efforts, Kanpassorn was listed on the BBC 100 Women for 2018, an honour that humbled her. More humbling though, are the messages from young users of the service who credit it with helping them turn their lives around.
"I receive messages from young patients once in a while and I am proud of that. Because we're an online service, our volunteers work in the background and rarely receive feedback. While we rarely receive compliments, we keep going because we focus on helping people. We do not run the social platform for compliments," she said.
"Asics 15:09 Uplift Challenge" campaign ends today.