On World Suicide Prevention Day, we look back at our interview with Gabby Frost, founder of the Buddy Project, a suicide prevention non-profit.
By Joanne Camas.
Gabby Frost has quite a talent. She knows how to cut through all the noise online and reach out to others when they most need a friend to listen.
She found out that three of her friends were going through mental health struggles when she was 14, and when she later encountered three girls online who were contemplating suicide, she knew she had to take positive action.
Frost launched the Buddy Project in 2013. The nonprofit works to prevent suicide and raise awareness for mental health issues, and now more than 232,000 young people have been paired with a buddy to share encouragement and friendship.
“I decided to create a support system to help people because I didn’t see anything similar that already existed,” Frost says. “I knew it was a need in my community and around the world, and that not all teens have a proper support system through their peers or family. I wanted to give them a place to get that support.”
Now a junior at Drexel University in Philadelphia, the 21-year-old is juggling her studies, the Buddy Project, and student life in general. How does she keep all the balls in the air?
“Knowing that there are millions of people out there who are going through mental health problems and aren’t receiving the proper help keeps me going,” she explains. “I want to help normalize mental health help and make people realize that they are allowed to prioritize themselves and their well-being. I know that all of the time I put into it will benefit at least one person, and that helps me push through when things get tough for me.”
Frost has heard the arguments that social media is in fact isolating people. Does she give any credence to that?
“Social media itself isn’t the cause of isolation, but it has the potential to make things worse,” she says. “People can get FOMO [fear of missing out] from seeing what their friends post and realize they may have been excluded from a party, hanging out, or something else. But social media can make people feel less isolated, as it can bring communities together online.”
And that’s where the Buddy Project comes in. Children, teens, and young adults around the world can sign up to be a buddy, and the project team finds a buddy with similar interests to pair them with. You have to be at least 13 years old to register to be connected with a new friend, but “you do not need to be going through any type of mental illness to sign up,” the nonprofit explains.
The Buddy Project website says it provides “positivity, companionship, resources, and education in order to reduce the stigma of mental illness, bullying. and negativity on social media. By introducing these concepts to young people at an early age, we hope to promote empathy, compassion, and awareness of mental health issues.”
Frost understands the power of peer pressure on social media, but she sees it as a double-edged sword. “Yes, social media has definitely made people feel more vulnerable,” she says, “but I feel like that can be a positive thing. It has been positive for me, as I’m more confident to be open about the negative or not-so-happy experiences in my life.” However, she adds, “It can also make people feel the need to be ‘fake’ or just not their genuine selves, since our lives are pretty much broadcast online.”
She’s happy to see her Buddy Project making a difference. “I know that a lot of buddies have been able to be there for each other if one is going through a tough time mentally,” she explains. “People have been able to help each other get through self-harm, addiction, and suicidal thoughts and help them get into recovery.”
Although statistics point to the suicide rate continuing to rise all across the board, Frost says she does have hope. “I think that awareness is improving and stigma is decreasing, but there is still a lot of work to go. Many people understand the basics of mental health, but there are deeper stigmas that still need to be eradicated.”
She believes students can bring their enthusiasm and social-media savvy to tackle mental health issues. “Young people give new, innovative approaches to mental health awareness and suicide prevention,” Frost says. “We understand which awareness and prevention tactics aren’t as effective anymore, and we have learned more about mental health and suicide compared to older generations.”
Next up for the Buddy Project? “We’re hoping to launch an app that will take the buddy pairing system and make it automatic soon,” Frost reports. “We’re also working on improving our Campus Rep program for middle school, high school, and college students.”
As for Frost herself, the future looks like an extension of the present: “I really want to do work in social impact/corporate responsibility that can intersect with the music, entertainment, and media industries,” she says. “I’m majoring in Music Industry and definitely want to combine what I’ve learned from that to help artists or other entertainers do nonprofit or social-good work. I want to help people utilize their voice and platform properly so they can make a change with their music or any type of artistic work.”