Long before Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even WebMD, Psych Central began its life in 1995 as a side project I created to highlight great mental health resources online at the time. Over its 25-year lifespan, we’ve gone from a dozen simple pages to tens of thousands of referenced articles.
After 25 years, it’s time to reflect on Psych Central’s past, present, and the future yet to come.
If you’re not familiar with the background on the inspiration for founding Psych Central, you may want to check it out. (You can also read this interview with me about 25 years of Psych Central.)
I began Psych Central as my personal web page back in early 1995 to house the resources I was curating at the time. These were indexes of all of the mental health and psychology resources online at the time, mostly online support groups for things like depression, personality concerns, and anxiety. There were very few mental health and psychology web pages to link to. Instead most of the stuff was still locked away in mailing lists, newsgroups, and gopher sites.
I envisioned a specialized version of Yahoo, which was a general directory of all of the best online resources at the time. Like Yahoo, my resources were collected and reviewed by a human (me!). If I didn’t think the resource added much to a person’s understanding of the disorder or psychological concept, I didn’t link to it.
That first version of my personal website got me my first job, working for a backoffice software developer whose customers were primarily community mental health centers. For four years, I helped them build a similar but much larger mental health website, originally called Mental Health Net. All the while, I continued adding bit by bit to Psych Central, growing it one article and idea at a time.
After working for a variety of additional startups both in and out of the mental health space — including one of the very first online therapy clinics in 1999 — I decided to take the plunge of focusing on Psych Central full-time in 2006. I saw the need for independent, objective mental health information, written without medical or psychological bias or industry influence. Within two years, we won the prestigious TIME.com “50 Best Websites of 2008” award. It was an amazing accomplishment, and one of my proudest moments. We garnered mentions in dozens of international publications, including The New York Times.
I didn’t go out and get a bucket full of cash to build Psych Central. Instead, I bootstrapped it, hiring additional people — mostly editors and contributors — as revenues allowed. It’s a slower way to grow a company, but it means you get to keep the whole company and not give it away to banks or investors in exchange for their money.
Since starting to run Psych Central as a small business in 2006, we’ve been focused on growing the site and the depth of the resources we offer people seeking mental health information, education, resources, and treatment options. We’ve had a few challenging years, when search engines decided to change how they’re going to index resources such as ours. Nonetheless, we’ve persisted through the dedication and effort of over two dozen staffers, many of whom have been with us for close to a decade. Today, we reach an astonishing 6 million people from around the world every month.
What an amazing group of editors and contributors we have, too! Psych Central wouldn’t be what it is today without the rock-steady presence, leadership, and awesome abilities of our fabulous managing editor, Sarah Newman. Overseeing the independent professional sister publication, New England Psychologist as well as Psych Central Professional, Susan Gonsalves is a long-time journalist and a tireless editor. Margarita Tartakovsky, MS has been with us since nearly the beginning, not only as a long-time contributor and blogger, but also an amazing associate editor who helps us with special projects. Bailey Apple has been our long-time newsletter editor, compiling and distributing our six weekly newsletters without fail.
Victoria Gigante has been our terrific social media star and blog manager now for many years, ensuring all of the great new weekly content from our bloggers and others is seen by our followers on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. For many years now, Lani Gregory has been an amazing resource for our SEO efforts, while Michele Bitinis helps us make sense of our analytics and data (and helps out in our News department). Alicia Sparks, another very long-time and fantastic contributor, heads up our syndication relationships. Two other important mentions: Patrick Newburn heads up our resources pages, and Neil Petersen works with us on Allpsych.com.
You may not realize this, but we have an entire news department dedicated to producing daily news articles on mental health, psychology, and related topics. David McCracken, MA leads this effort as our incredible, tireless editor and publisher. He’s assisted by the superb senior news editor Rick Nauert, PhD, who has been with us since 2006, as well as our faithful, dedicated news correspondents, Traci Pederson and Janice Wood.
More recently, we’ve expanded into mental health podcasts and have a whole team dedicated to that effort as well, led by the amazing, multi-talented Gabe Howard, who also serves as the site’s homepage editor. He’s assisted by hosts Rachel Star Withers (Inside Schizophrenia) and Lisa (Not Crazy).
Since 2006, we’ve also hosted an “Ask the Therapist” feature — a place where people can ask their mental health, psychology, relationships, and parenting questions and get some free advice from one of our talented therapists. This effort has been led by long-time colleague, friend, and a remarkable individual, Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. She’s had some help with these questions for many years from the amazing Daniel J. Tomasulo, Ph.D. (who has a new blog called Learned Hopefulness — check it out) and Kristina Randle, Ph.D.
The list wouldn’t be complete without noting our long relationship with Therese Borchard, who has been a fellow, faithful companion in the dot-com waters of e-health with me throughout the years. She has been a friend, colleague, and contributor to our site for more years than I can count. Comparing notes over the years has helped me keep my sanity, and, I hope, maybe helped her better understand how special she is.
I’d also like to acknowledge and thank the hundreds of bloggers and independent contributors we’ve had the honor of being the chosen online home for their content. Great writers make great websites, and it’s because of their contributions (and those of the people listed above) that Psych Central is the amazing resource that it is today.
I am grateful not only for all the above people’s help and support in keeping Psych Central chugging along, but also for the opportunity to have known and worked with them. This is truly a very special group of people.
The future holds as many possibilities as it did back in 1995 when the web was in its infancy. Nobody could’ve imagined the impact the social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter would have back then. I’m going to crib from my own response in the recent interview with Bella DePaulo:
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 having a really great self-help toolset in such an app, one that lets you meditate wherever and whenever you want, practice mindfulness, learn a new coping skill, and discover a new, healthier way of dealing with stress. Imagine, too, if 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.
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.
I can’t be certain what the future holds, but I trust Psych Central will always be a part of it, leading the industry with its amazing wealth of mental health and psychology resources.
Thank you for your support of Psych Central these past 25 years. Here’s to the next 25!