Montclair State Student Creates New Form of Social Media For Mental Health

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Published December 12, 2018
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The Montclarion
John Pitera is one of Storytellers co-founders and an undeclared sophomore at Montclair State. Photo courtesy of John Pitera

The effects of anxiety cripple millions of individuals, but today’s generation tends to turn to social media as an escape or a coping method.

Whether one shares their struggles on Twitter or Facebook, these popular social media platforms offer no professional support. While followers may send love and advice, it is not the same as talking to a community that understands.

Undeclared sophomore John Pitera and his business partner Chris Santos have made it their mission to create a virtual community for individuals struggling with their new website, Storytellers.

Storytellers is a new form of social media that allows health professionals to read each user’s story upon submission and place them in to different communities in order to interact with others who share the same struggles and who have similar stories.

Pitera, the founder and CEO, created the process with a series of goals and hopes for each user, along with co-founder and chief technology officer Santos.

“The idea came from myself and people I know that have that constant feeling that nobody can relate to them and that they were alone, like nobody understood,” Pitera said. “The main goal is to connect and create a sense of community for people who feel like there is nobody to go to. We want our users to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.”

When first visiting Storytellers, the user submits a form to sign up with their information. That form gets sent to a health professional, also known as a mentor, at random. The form is submitted at random to keep the sign-up process honest between each mentor and user. Once the mentor has reviewed the user’s story, they have the authority to accept or deny the content submitted.

Pitera has a set plan for each storyteller to encourage one another.

“By instilling a sense of community, the goal is that users encourage and help each other by interacting and comforting through hardship,” Pitera said. “We want our users to be there for one another through the good and the bad.”

John Pitera and Chris Santos co-founded the social media website, Storytellers. Photo courtesy of John Pitera

Each first-time user must submit his or her story so not just anyone can join the platform. The only time the user will ever have to submit their personal name will be in the first step of the process. Once they are accepted, they are officially a Storyteller. Pitera’s own personal experience has played a role when designing this new form of social media.

“I have struggled with depression and weight problems through a good portion of my life, and I always had that feeling that I had nowhere to go, adding to the fact that I was incredibly shy,” Pitera said. “The entire process is private and secure so that nobody needs to feel that they are revealing their information to the world.”

Many students and individuals struggle with that same feeling of having nowhere to go. In fact, according to elementsbehavioralhealth.com, 40 million people suffer from some form of anxiety. Storytellers presents the opportunity to bring people together and Montclair State students are in favor of such a helpful platform.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said junior psychology major Mia Albert. “Some people get nervous about actually going to support groups so this brings more awareness. If someone is scared about talking their issues out, this might just be the right thing for them.”

Bringing awareness to mental health in a positive light can eliminate pressure for others that give the gift of sharing their story.

Montclair State student Joe Basile, who plans on studying business management, is currently taking a few semesters off. He opened up about his own struggles.

“I know personally it was hard to open up to loved ones and find the help I needed,” Basile said. “I felt no one would understand my struggles, but knowing there are people out there who you can speak to in a nonjudgmental environment who only want the best for you is amazing and helps aid against the stigma of therapy.”

Each individual who is a part of Storytellers will have access to the community that their mentor places them in, which opens up a new form of interaction and freedom. All mentors are licensed to ensure the safety of everyone on the website. Storytellers’ members have the option to remain public or anonymous and will not have to use their real name on their profile.

Chris Santos, 23, is the chief of technology for Storyteller. He is also one of the company’s co-founders. Photo courtesy of John Pitera

Cyber security and new technologies are drastic in today’s society. This is why 23-year-old business partner and chief of technology Santos, who currently resides in Texas, understands the importance of media buzz and safety.

“In order to protect our users from potentially harmful content, we are using a technology called natural language processing on our posts,” Santos said. “We want nothing but a safe environment for our users to share their story, and this technology provides an extra layer of safety to content being posted.”

The platform is planned to launch as a website in spring 2019, as the Storyteller team is continuously working on new developments.

Pitera is in the process of working out all possible conflicts that could potentially arise.

“Storytellers still has a lot of improvements to make before we are ready to launch,” Pitera said. “This product will be a job that is never finished.”

For more up to date information visit storytellers on Facebook @storytellerssm and check out the website storytellerssocial.com.

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