Martin Feckie is the organiser of a few events in the tech community in Perth, and has created a new site that he hopes will help with the mental health problems we face: ASafeSpaceToShare.com
//SN: What’s the reason for the site?
I have a strong interest in community building and am heavily involved in events in the tech space which help do that (Ruby on Rails Oceania (Perth), RailsGirls, GovHack to name a few). Something I see a lot when meeting people is how many of us experience to a greater or lesser degree the dread of meeting new people and feelings that we may not belong or be welcomed.
I’ve given several talks now on the subject of imposter syndrome and self esteem. The feedback has always been extremely positive, with people telling me how I’ve described how they’ve felt for a long time and how much it means to know they are not alone. The talks came from my interest in mental health as a component of people support and personal development.
Tech as an industry can be particularly stressful because things move so quickly and many developers would recognise the sense of feeling like an idiot a big chunk of the time, interspersed with moments of joy and success. For people experiencing self doubt or self esteem issues, this can be particularly detrimental.
From these interests, some research and a bunch of conversations I’ve had recently I decided I’d like to use some of the skills and knowledge I have to try and provide a safe place for people to discuss their feelings and experiences, particularly around anxiety, depression and self esteem.
//SN: So how does it work?
There’s a whole bunch of good evidence that people who have one close friend or feel part of a community experience better mental health generally and have a reduced risk of suicide.
Sharing your experiences with others, and hearing their stories as well, helps to reduce the feelings of loneliness and inability to cope. Knowing that other people, lots of other people, have had the same problems and have survived them and gone on to find happiness, is a huge help.
//SN: Sharing your innermost fears and demons can be terrifying, and in fact the stigma associated with mental health issues can mean that there are real problems associated with sharing. How are you overcoming this?
Online trolls and cyber bullying are a big problem, so the site uses forum software that has good tooling for dealing with poor behaviour.
The site asks users to register in order to see any content, though they don’t have to provide their full name and can choose a username that’s as revealing or private as they choose. This won’t prevent the odd troll getting in, but communities that are ‘policed’ by themselves are well suited for ensuring poor behaviour is dealt with quickly and effectively.
It also means that there are no casual observers: to view the content you have to log in, and so you can be sure a prospective employer is not going to see your posts unless they too have created an account to share their pain.
I hope to see the community build into a place where people who are feeling isolated or distressed can go to feel welcomed, supported and cared for. Helping others and sharing is a great way of engaging in personal healing too, so I hope it helps people across the spectrum of experiences from suffering through to recovery and beyond.
//SN: How are you planning on funding the site?
I am funding the site initially myself and hope that the community will fund it as it grows by some means. I may explore crowdfunding later if it looks like that’s the way to go.
//SN: Thanks Martin, good luck with the site!
Founding a new business is hard on your mental health. The suicide rates for entrepreneurs are higher than the background rate, which is already high – the most common cause of death for Aussie men aged 25-45 is suicide. The emotional rollercoaster of the startup journey can literally kill you if you’re not careful. All the evidence and research shows that compassionate sharing really can help people with these issues.
Men are especially vulnerable as our culture tends to disregard male emotional problems, which is one of the reasons the male suicide rate is so much higher in Australia. A site like this, that allows people to share their feelings and pain anonymously, and so avoid the stigma of male emotional crisis, may be part of the answer.
Martin’s talks on imposter syndrome in the tech industry are hilarious and very relevant: tech culture can be toxic, and coding itself can be emotionally challenging because of the constant change and creative demands. We all think we’re not good enough, we compare ourselves against the very visible giants in our industry, we compete when we would do better to collaborate, and it’s hard to share because of the stigma. None of this leads to a healthy emotional state.