storytellers

Storytellers began April 1 and its mobile app will launch this summer. 

Since over 40 million Americans suffer from mental illness according to Mental Health America, John Pitera wanted to make an impact on the community by offering a media platform with discussion boards specific to personal symptoms called Storytellers. It’s aimed at helping mentally, physically and emotionally ill and disabled people converse with each other freely and anonymously if they choose.

After the launch of the company on April 1, Pitera gained about 30 users within the month. Each participant fills out a survey when they make their profiles on the site with questions regarding their mental health and any issues they’re going through. Then, they’re placed in a discussion board with people who are having similar issues. Within each group, the members can post about their issues and receive comments and other feedback. There are future plans to create a report option if the user doesn’t want the comments given shown on their post.

“I had my own struggles with mental illnesses through high school, and I just couldn’t help but notice all of my friends were going through the same thing,” Pitera said. “I figured it’s about time that somebody put a platform out where nobody needs to know each other’s names, and it can just be talking about our feelings and why we wake up every day the way we do.”

Pitera plans on launching a mobile app this summer with new features such as messaging and an explore page, so users can read other stories from group members across the nation. He hopes this will attract a wider audience and create a more open atmosphere.

Two sophomore media arts and design students, Marley Guilfoyle and Jenna Gilbert, have been impacted by mental illness over the years and wanted to apply their design knowledge to help Pitera and his company. The students work as social media managers and content creators for Storytellers to create pictures and messages that promote the platform through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“I think in college especially, a lot of people have been dealing with stuff or they develop it in college because you’re alone a lot and you’re finding yourself,” Gilbert said. “My friends I’ve talked to, a lot of them suffer with mental illnesses, and a lot of them have come through all of the stress and workload that they have. Mental illness is so stigmatized now, not a lot of people [talk] about it because they think it’s a bad thing, but in reality, it’s just a normal thing.”

This is a resource for those, especially college students, who may not have the option to seek help from a family member or friend or receive therapy and need somewhere to get it all out, Gilbert said. It’s also a quick and easy way to vent about any problems or grievances going on for college students who are usually tight on time.

“I have had issues in the past and problems that I would’ve liked to have an app or website I could’ve used to help get the word out,” Guilfoyle said. “I think being able to use this app to reach out to others who have the same problem, I think it’s a really good coping mechanism and a good way to spread the word that mental health is a real thing and people do need help for it.”

Guilfoyle said she’s seen users connect on the media platform and form relationships that have helped them progress through their issues. She’s a user of the website and has used it to connect to her friends, family and strangers. Over the past month, she has seen people involved, and introduced to the site, realize the capacity of mental illness and how it affects people. Pitera plans to continue this motion of spreading awareness and helping others through the app and website.

“I just want people to try and end the stigma with mental health being this thing that is frowned upon by so many and how people feel like they can’t share, they can’t express their feelings the way they want to,” Pitera said. “I think it’s gonna have a great impact on college life because that’s a lot of people who struggle with mental health … I feel that it’s going to affect their personal lives.”

Contact Bridget Murphy at murph2br@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.