When Jack Heath and the team started ReachOut in 1998, AltaVista was the search engine of choice. You couldn’t go anywhere in the world without seeing a Nokia phone, and as I said to my seven-year-old boy the other day, the internet was something that you had to turn on – and it made a noise. His response was ‘Why would you ever turn off the internet?’
Obviously, a lot has changed in the world since 1998. ReachOut started alongside many tech businesses in the 90s, and many of those simply don’t exist anymore. It was a visionary idea, and today ReachOut is one of the longest-standing digital social enterprises in the world.
But two things haven’t changed: a drive to create innovative e-mental health services remains at our core, and young people are still the true heart and soul of our organisation. Working alongside them on ReachOut is central to the impact we’ve made over the years. Our Youth Ambassadors make ReachOut a warm, inclusive space full of people who really care about the people who access our service – they’re the reason why ReachOut isn’t simply a bunch of fact sheets, and why our youth-driven community is so different to other services.
In ReachOut’s first year – 1998 – we reached 30,000 people. Today we reach more than 110,000 people in Australia every month and many more through social media. Our service has stood the test of time, reached untold numbers of people, and has the potential to reach and touch the lives of so many more.
However, it’s sobering – and heartbreaking – to see from figures released last month that the leading cause of death for young people is still suicide. This tells us that we can’t be complacent – young people need more mental health support to bring these numbers down.
ReachOut is the most scalable mental health service in the world and we want more young people to know that ReachOut is here to help. We know that, at any time of the day or night, we can get help to a young person through the internet on their mobile.
For me, it’s a double-down bet: we know what we can do, but we need additional resources to do it – it’s an absolute imperative for us if we’re going to achieve the goal of driving down suicide rates for young people. We have achieved a lot over the last 18 years, but there is more to do.
I would like to thank everyone who has been involved since we started ReachOut, particularly Jack Heath, our founding board and founding supporters for having the courage to launch this thing. Without their collective vision in 1996, ReachOut as we know it might not exist. ReachOut is what it is now thanks to the massive extended family we’ve developed since then: our staff, past and present; our Youth Ambassadors who’ve grown up to do amazing things themselves; and our countless supporters around the country. I know that with the continued support of our donors, community, government and young people, we can take ReachOut to a greater scale, helping even more young people be happy and well.
Jono Nicholas is CEO of ReachOut Australia.
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