TogetherWell: Listening & Empowering the Community to Increase Access to Mental Health Education

by | Jan 14, 2022 | Changemaker Of The Week

Dr. Michele Haley has a beautiful and distinctive ability to make people feel seen. The way she leans in to listen with her heart and extends genuine kindness with her thoughtful words opens the door to meaningful connections that foster healing and growth. Combine that with her passion for education and giving back and you set the foundation for TogetherWell, a non-profit that’s changing the ways mental health professionals meet the needs of communities by connecting people with affordable, accessible, and customized workshops while supporting the professionals themselves.

Like many, Michele’s family faced mental health issues when she was growing up. While a lack of helpful resources and plethora of stigmas were a challenge, it was these very obstacles that inspired Michele to imagine a different kind of world; one where people had access to what they needed to create healing within communities.

As a psychologist, Michele has worked in many different communities and something that she’s been continually struck by are the feelings of validation and catharsis experienced by workshop participants. Sometimes just being in a room with other people going through the same thing can be healing. In thinking about how she could expand those feelings and experiences to more people she realized that there was no mainstream platform for that kind of connection; however, that did not stop her. Working with her next-door neighbor – a web designer – she began building an online space that would serve as a bridge between therapists and communities and TogetherWell was born.

After extensive planning, TogetherWell’s launch day arrived only to have its hopeful expectations dashed in an instant due to a shutdown by the Covid-19 pandemic. They needed to pivot quickly and three weeks later – in response to an urgent call by therapists to understand how to transition from in-person therapy to tele-health – Michele and her volunteers held Take Flight, an online event with opening remarks from Senator Beall, 400 therapist registrants, and 13 speakers with 100% of attendee’s reporting that therapists wanted more events from TogetherWell.

This online platform allows people to contact vetted mental health professionals about free and/or low cost workshops that will support their needs.  For example, a teacher or principal could come to the platform to look for a workshop on positive behavioral interventions for students, a business could look for a workshop on work-life balance, or a community facing an opioid epidemic could host a workshop to educate the community and provide resources. If they found a professional, they’d be invited to contact them but if the search yielded no results, they could fill out the contact form for support. As the platform grows, they hope to add more to their selection of workshops.

“For me, this work is heart aligned. The struggle with the mental health industry is that it’s expensive, there are long waits, and stigma, among other systemic barriers. Workshops create more equitable access and allow for timely education and resources. When someone is looking for a workshop, you are empowering the community to identify what they need and share that education with their people,” says Michele.

While Michele is a huge proponent of therapy, she mentions that some people are not ready to access services and so workshops offer a useful option to begin a growth journey. Further clarifying,  group therapy is more in-depth and individualized, whereas workshops are more educational and resource based in order to meet the needs of the community. That community focus is what feeds TogetherWell’s growth, so when some areas need more support, a search for resources ensues. In fact, that’s what led to the discovery of the Pollination Project and the receipt of TogetherWell’s first grant.

The Pollination Project grant supported a new initiative, Third Thursdays for Therapists. In an effort to provide therapists with greater resources, Michele created this free educational program that would invite speakers to share their expertise on topics ranging from risk and suicide assessment to racial justice, advocacy, and more. The grant helped to fulfill technological needs, support marketing efforts and overall organizational assistance for the program.

“Getting funded, as a startup nonprofit, is so hard because you often have to prove you have this solid financial record and when you’re just starting out that’s not possible. You face a lot of rejection but receiving that acceptance from the Pollination Project was so impactful having had our fundraising launch event canceled due to “shelter-in-place.” But it was more than that, it was somebody supporting this work– it was somebody believing in our mission to eliminate the systemic barriers to mental health education, resources, and tools through workshops in order to heal our communities. Seeing that you’ve been awarded – well, it filled me with excitement and relief. It was much needed.”

The Third Thursdays for Therapists series was so successful that TogetherWell created Wellness Wednesdays. These free, emotional well-being workshops for the community invite TogetherWell professionals to talk about many topics, including improving communication, developing better coping skills and finding a work-life balance, to name a few.

TogetherWell is a diverse volunteer-led team of skilled and committed volunteers.  Their 100 volunteers include students who they mentor as the organization is connected with 5 universities. They also have an ever-growing library of resources. TogetherWell is continuing to expand alongside their community. This space for connection and education that was built upon the idea of giving back is now fueled by the heartfelt collective energy of it’s volunteers who – like Michele – believe that there is no limit to the ways we can help improve the mental health of our communities and the world.