The year 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of Psych Central. It is quite an achievement, especially in these days when even the most prestigious publications have been closing down at an alarming rate. John Grohol, the Founder and CEO, deserves the credit for his brilliant idea and all the work he has put into the site for the past quarter-century.
I’m Bella DePaulo, and I have had the good fortune of blogging for Psych Central since 2011. Five years ago, for the 20th anniversary, I asked John Grohol if I could interview him about the site. Happily, he agreed. Readers enjoyed the interview and learned a lot, too, so I asked if we could do it again to mark the 25th anniversary. I hope you appreciate John Grohol’s insights as much as I do.
Bella: How has Psych Central changed over time?
John Grohol: When I first began Psych Central in 1995, it was composed of approximately a dozen web pages. Today, it houses tens of thousands of articles on hundreds of different topics. It’s gone from my small hobby site to a powerhouse of mental health information, reaching over 7 million people each month.
I moved to working on Psych Central full-time in 2006, hiring a journalist to help us with writing news updates, as well as a part-time managing editor. We’ve grown the staff slowly, over time, as our revenues allowed us to hire more people.
After 25 years, we’ve reached an astounding 650 million people from around the world through our resources, support communities, and articles.
Bella: What are the different components of the site now?
John Grohol: At its heart, Psych Central continues to be about providing objective, unbiased mental health information to people, no matter where they may live. We do this primarily through our mental health library, where we house all of the information related to mental disorders, as well as their symptoms and treatments. We also have hundreds of parenting and relationship articles in the library, as well as self-help articles that teach common cognitive-behavioral techniques and other therapeutic exercises.
We have a fantastic daily news bureau that publishes news and research updates related to psychology, mental health, relationships, brain science, and parenting. Psych Central Professional focuses on articles and topics mainly of interest to mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists and marriage and family therapists.
Our blog network is composed of dozens of active bloggers. Our bloggers aren’t just mental health professionals, but also include those who grapple with various disorders since too often their voices are not heard in the same conversations we have about mental health.
Our Ask the Therapist feature, begun in 2006, is an advice column staffed by four different therapists who answer people’s questions at no charge. The questions tend to focus on relationship and personality issues, but also include mental health concerns and questions about treatment.
With dozens of different interactive screening quizzes, we offer people the opportunity to see if they may have mental health concerns that warrant further attention from a professional. We also have a daily Mood Tracker as well as the Sanity Score, an overall measure of a person’s general mental health and well-being.
Psych Central has a great self-help support community comprised of over 200 support groups and 500,000 members. Our Forums house self-help support groups for mental health and related everyday life concerns. It’s overseen by myself and a great team of moderators who help keep the community safe and supportive.
Bella: What makes Psych Central unique? What is its special mission, if you think it has one?
Provide the best evidence-based mental health &
psychology information, regardless of profession.
All voices are important and should be elevated
in the discourse about mental illness & mental health.
We’re unique in that we’re the oldest and largest independent mental health website online today, still overseen by mental health professionals. We’re also special in that the company isn’t run by businesspeople looking to simply monetize mental health information. We’ve outsourced our actual advertising so that we spend about zero hours a year worrying about or focusing on advertising. This makes us more editorially independent than most other sites.
We’re driven by the daily reminder that through our efforts, we are saving lives. Education is the answer to stigma, discrimination, and prejudice. So we work to provide the best and most diverse set of education resources to help people better understand mental illness and its treatments.
Bella: What are you most proud of?
John: Well, I’ve got 25 years’ worth of things to be proud of. Next to our recognition by mainstream media outlets (included the New York Times and being picked as one the Top 50 Websites of 2008 by TIME.com), I’d have to say I’m most proud of the community we’ve built up, both in our self-help support groups and among our wonderful set of bloggers and contributors.
Our support groups are filled with so many inspirational stories of hope, overcoming horrible circumstances, and recovery. Our members in these groups are warm-hearted, real, giving people… And so many find strength in giving support to others.
The group of bloggers and contributors we have on the site are just amazing. I’ve never met a more creative, thoughtful set of people who constantly inspire and make me think. We’d be hard pressed to offer the kind of diversity of viewpoints without them. Sharing a breadth of experience is so important when dealing with mental illness, because there are so many variants not only of conditions, but of treatments and self-help strategies that work for people.
Last, I’m also very proud of our support of people who live with mental illness every day. Not only do we do this through our online support community, but we also do it through direct action too. For instance, we hire people who struggle with mental illness in their own lives. It’s never been an issue for us, and in fact, I often find that people who are in recovery from such challenges are more resilient and make more passionate workers than those without.
Bella: What do you see as the future of Psych Central?
John: I think the future is wide open, as the Tom Petty song reminds us. People are mostly interacting with websites through their mobile devices and apps. So that suggests a couple of avenues to explore, such as creating a really spectacular all-in-one mental health helper app. Something that not only allows you to track your mood and remind you of therapy appointments and taking your medication, but also provides just-in-time resources for support or immediate treatment. Imagine you just needed someone to talk to, and could log in and find someone immediately to have a conversation with… That could be a very powerful helping tool.
The digital publishing landscape has also changed significantly in the past 5 years. When we last talked, it was far more stable and easier to run a business with online advertising. With changes that Google has continuously made to its search engine algorithm, such stability is less assured. Even long-time, high-quality websites like Psych Central can be impacted, demonstrating the unpredictable nature of Google’s changes.
So it might make sense to take a hard look at how we can continue to grow our business in an increasingly challenging marketplace such as this.
But I believe today more than ever, we need such independent resources that Psych Central provides. I believe there will always be an audience for high-quality articles that span the mental health spectrum — something we do a great job producing.