Poetry, love confessions and personal testimonials – anything goes on the uMentioned Western Facebook page. And all with complete anonymity.
Each post is an act of trust. Each represents faith in a complete stranger.
And so far it seems to be working.
On a campus of more than 30,000 students, these anonymous Facebook posts have fostered a sense of community and camaraderie not otherwise possible.
What started as a space for flirting and social fun has transformed into a support forum for students. Posts range from cheerful compliments to discussions of mental health issues. Positive feedback and encouraging ‘likes’ occur by the hundreds.
“Whenever I see you at the front desk of the rec centre, it always makes my day,” reads one post. Another reveals a private inner struggle. “There’s so much stress, pressure, anxiety building up around me and I’ve always been the strong one, the person people can depend on, yet I find myself failing,” says the post, signed “the girl who always seems happy.”
Social anxiety, depression and heartbreak are common topics, as the cloak of anonymity encourages people to open up about their personal difficulties.
“Over time people have been sending in more thoughtful and self-expressive posts,” said the administrator of Western’s page. “I really try my best to accommodate all kinds of expression.”
Much like the contributors, the administrator – a second-year social science student – wishes to remain anonymous.
Though his identity remains a secret, he has access to the identity of anyone posting on uMentioned. Students use their personal Facebook profiles to privately message the administrator their comments, questions and thoughts. The administrator then transfers them onto the shared page for everyone to read and respond to.
“Whoever started this knows a lot of secrets,” one user remarked. But it’s a risk many students are willing to take to communicate with others.
Western’s page is part of a larger uMentioned project that began at Queen’s University in November 2012. Ade Labinjo, a fourth year Queen’s student, founded the communication platform as a way to connect people.
Labinjo said he’s surprised at the overwhelming response, but welcomes the diversity in how the pages are being used. “People are finding uMentioned as a way to express themselves in a number of ways,” he said. “I’m happy to see the platform is helping a lot of people.”
Since November, uMentioned has expanded to universities across the country, each with its own Facebook page. Western’s has more than 7,000 friends and followers. A new website will be launching in March to meet the growing demand.
Labinjo puts in long hours to keep up, as do administrators at other universities. “It’s 24/7,” Labinjo said. “But we don’t find it work because we love what we’re doing.”
The administrators are not trained counsellors, but work to provide a welcoming outlet for struggling students.
Western’s administrator said there are limits to uMentioned. “I always try to remind myself that I’m not a professional,” he said. “I try to encourage them (students) to seek professional help.”
Labinjo said posting is a first step in overcoming fear and embarrassment for students. “We shouldn’t underestimate what a post can do for somebody,” he explained. “You have not just one person who can help you, but 1,000. A lot of people have faced the same issue and have been able to provide some amazing advice.”
Candy Parker, a crisis intake nurse at Western’s Student Health Services, thinks the project is a great addition to the university community. “I think it might help a lot of people who don’t want to come forward,” she said. “People feel more comfortable not facing someone face-to-face.”
Parker also thinks the site may encourage more young men to seek help. “They seem to be the ones that don’t want to say too much,” she said. “And if they come in (to Health Services), it’s like pulling teeth.”
But just who is using the Western page will remain a secret. Anyone with a Facebook profile can contribute a message or browse the recent posts.
“Discover the stories around you,” encourages uMentioned’s tag line. This simple mission has already made a big impact and those behind the project have no intentions of slowing down.
Western’s administrator sees the project expanding beyond the student population. “This is such a great and effective way of helping the entire community, through creating and spreading that positive energy,” he said.
Main photo courtesy of uMentioned