“We’re driven by the daily reminder that through our efforts, we may be able to save lives.”
–John Grohol, Fonder and CEO of Psych Central
[Bella’s intro: I have been a blogger at Psych Central since 2011, and it has been a wonderful experience. This year, 2015, marked the 20th anniversary of Psych Central. I invited John Grohol, the Founder and CEO of the site, to tell me more about Psych Central and its 20-year history. I am so delighted that he agreed to do so. I thought I already knew a lot about the site, but from his answers, I learned so much more. John, you are a true inspiration! Many thanks for all that you do.]
- Bella: How and when did Psych Central get started? And can you tell me more about yourself?
John Grohol: Psych Central can trace its roots back to my first year in graduate school — 1990 — when I learned that my childhood best friend had taken his life over the heartbreak of his first real relationship. In my grief and pain, I found a support group for depression among the Usenet newsgroups — the Internet’s original discussion forums. I gained help for my grief through that group, and soon set off to find similar groups online.
Before the web, the Internet was a far more difficult place to navigate. So to help others in their online journey, I started maintaining indexes of these support groups, on Usenet newsgroups, on mailing lists, and eventually, self-help support resources on the web. I published these indexes on various newsgroups, and it helped countless thousands to find support online in a way that just wasn’t possible a decade earlier.
My best friend’s death also brought an insight — in order to make a bigger difference in the world and stop such senseless death, it would be better to devote my efforts to reaching more people, rather than conducting one-on-one psychotherapy with clients. So I changed career direction after graduation to do all of my work online, in psychoeducation and helping people better understand mental illness so they wouldn’t discriminate against people with it.
When it appeared the web wasn’t just a passing fad, I decided to maintain the indexes on a website I called “Psych Central: Dr. John Grohol’s Mental Health Page.” I began that site in 1995, and have maintained it as its grown over the past 20 years. It was originally just a small site, with just a dozen or so pages… but I kept adding to it over the years, growing it a few pages at a time with mental health information such as symptom lists of common mental disorders.
- Bella: How has Psych Central changed over time?
John Grohol: In 1995, when Psych Central first began, it was composed of approximately a dozen web pages. Today, it houses over 80,000 articles on hundreds of different topics. It’s grown from a small hobby site I maintained on the side (while working other jobs), to become an online publisher with over 50 staffers who work on the site every day.
After I left my first job in 1999, Psych Central expanded its resources to include interactive online quizzes — some of the first available online for mental disorders — and a support-group community in 2001.
In 2006, I decided I had had enough of working for other Internet startups and decided to focus all of my efforts full-time on growing Psych Central.
- Bella: What are the different components of the site now?
John Grohol: At its heart, Psych Central is about providing objective, unbiased mental health information to people, no matter where they may live. We do this primarily through our mental health library, where we house all of the information related to mental disorders, as well as their symptoms and treatments. We also have hundreds of parenting and relationship articles in the library, as well as self-help articles that teach common cognitive-behavioral techniques and other therapeutic exercises.
We have a fantastic daily news bureau that publishes news and research updates related to psychology, mental health, relationships, brain science, and parenting. Psych Central Professional focuses on articles and topics mainly of interest to mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists and marriage and family therapists.
Our blog network is composed of hundreds of bloggers today, blogging on every topic imaginable. Our bloggers aren’t just mental health professionals, but are also those who grapple with various disorders since too often their voices are not heard in the same conversations we have about mental health online.
Our Ask the Therapist feature begun in 2006 is an advice column staffed by four different therapists who answer people’s questions at no charge. The questions tend to focus on relationship and personality issues, but also include mental health concerns and questions about treatment.
With over four dozen interactive screening quizzes, we offer people the opportunity to see if they may have mental health concerns that warrant further attention from a professional. We also have a daily Mood Tracker as well as the Sanity Score, an overall measure of a person’s general mental health and well-being.
We maintain a mental health and psychology resource directory filled with thousands of other great websites, support groups and online resources categorized by topic that we think others may find helpful. Psych Central also supports a clinical trials research database, a therapist directory, and a medication reference dictionary.
Psych Central has two great self-help support communities comprised of over 250 support groups and 450,000 members. Our Forums house self-help support groups for mental health concerns, while our sister community called NeuroTalk features groups focused on neurological conditions. They’re overseen both by myself and a great team of moderators who help keep them safe and supportive.
We also run a few other websites that also have lengthy online histories. The number one suicide page online, “Read This First” (http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/ ) is a site we oversee and maintain. We also oversee AllPsych.com, a virtual psychology classroom tailored to psychology students in college and high school.
- Bella: What makes Psych Central unique? What is its special mission, if you think it has one?
Provide the best evidence-based mental health &
psychology information, regardless of profession.
All voices are important and should be elevated
in the discourse about mental illness & mental health.
We’re unique in that we’re the oldest and largest independent mental health website online today overseen by mental health professionals. We’re also special in that the company isn’t run by businesspeople looking to make a buck — it’s run by me. We’ve outsourced our actual advertising so that we spend about zero hours a year worrying about or focusing on advertising. This makes us more editorially independent than most other sites.
We’re driven by the daily reminder that through our efforts, we may be able to save lives. Education is the answer to stigma, discrimination and prejudice. So we work to provide the best and most diverse set of education resources to help people better understand mental illness and its treatments.
- Bella: What are you most proud of?
John Grohol: Well, I’ve got 20 years of things to be proud of. Next to our recognition by mainstream media outlets (included the New York Times and being picked as one the Top 50 Websites of 2008 by TIME.com), I’d have to say I’m most proud of the community we’ve built up, both in our self-help support groups and among our wonderful set of bloggers and contributors.
Our support groups are filled with so many inspirational stories of hope, overcoming horrible circumstances, and recovery. Our members in these groups are warm-hearted, real, giving people… And so many find strength in giving support to others.
The group of bloggers and contributors we have on the site are just amazing. I’ve never met a more creative, thoughtful set of people who constantly inspire and make me think. We’d be hard pressed to offer the kind of diversity of viewpoints without them. Sharing a breadth of experience is so important when dealing with mental illness, because there are so many variants not only of conditions, but of treatments and self-help strategies that work for people.
- Bella: What do you see as the future of Psych Central?
John Grohol: I’m really excited in the upcoming years to continue to grow the kinds of resources we offer people. Not just new information, but new tools to better manage and track their mental health condition. We’re also looking at some ways to just help people with every day life, learn to better reduce stress in a healthy manner, and remove the impediments that stand in the way of happiness.
We’ll continue to add to our great group of bloggers, and work to increase our social media reach so that more folks are aware of all the great stories and articles that get published every day.