Online site tackles self-destructive behaviors

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Posted: 2/29/08

Online site tackles self-destructive behaviors

By Morgan Jerema

Religion News Service

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS)—In spite of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder that have nagged her since she was a teenager, 20-year-old Krissee is determined to keep the self-destructive manifestations of both conditions in check.

It hasn’t been easy, said Krissee, who asked that her last name not be used.

“To this day, I still want to do it,” she said.

“It” was pulling out her hair, a strand at a time, until she was almost bald.

“It” also involved self-injury. She used a razor blade or craft knife to slash her forearms and legs.

Krissee (who asked that her last name not be used) found solace in the online ministry after struggling with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (RNS Photo)

Growing up near Grand Rapids, Mich., Krissee re-members a happy childhood, but one that was tinged with feelings of low self-worth. As the feelings persisted and her anxiety grew, she pulled out her hair and eventually started to cut herself as a way to cope, she said.

“I had this amazing buildup of stress, and this was a way to release that—a physical way to cope,” she said. “I couldn’t always hide what I did, so I’ve got to believe I wanted somebody to know I wasn’t OK.”

Her parents tried to find her help, she said, and a “parade of every sort of counseling, therapy and medication you can think of” brought some good results. But it didn’t make her invincible.

“I needed a safe place to talk,” she said.

Then a friend told her about, and Krissee volunteered to be one of the first to share her story with a new online community whose organizers want to be a source of hope and healing for people who are hurting.

She posted a video testimony of her experiences on the website, and today she serves as a live-chat moderator.

“The main thing is, you’ve got to talk about it,” Krissee said. “When I finally talked about it to the people I loved, that’s when the healing really started.” is a new ministry for people with substance abuse or self-injury issues, eating disorders, depression or suicidal thoughts.

The ministry was started last October by friends Jon Bell, 24 (whose brother, Rob Bell, is pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., and a popular Christian author); website designer Clint McManaman, 27; and Craig Gross, 32, an ordained minister and former youth pastor perhaps best known as the founder of anti-pornography ministry

McManaman, a former drummer for the Christian rock band Sub Seven, said he had heard stories from fans while on the road touring about their personal struggles.

Eventually, the trio of friends decided they wanted to do more. includes features such as live and e-mail support with licensed counselors, chats and message boards where posters can share their experiences, and the chance for people to upload their video stories.

The idea behind heartsupport, as described in Bell’s online bio, is simple: “Sometimes the most important words for a person to say are, ‘Me too.’”

An addiction to porn was how McManaman connected with Gross. For Bell, it was a struggle with drugs and clinical depression that led to his involvement with heartsupport.

“I realized I was depressed in seventh grade,” Bell recalled.

Instead of seeking help, he said, he numbed his pain with drugs.

“I didn’t feel like I could let my parents or siblings down, and I didn’t feel like church was a safe place to talk about what I was going through,” Bell said.

“I think that’s common, the feeling that people will think: ‘What do you mean, you’re not doing OK? You’re in church.’ I think a lot of people feel a need to have everything together.”

Admitting that he had a problem led to treatment and counseling and al-lowed those closest to him to pull him up and out of his misery.

Had someone recommended an online resource, he probably would have used it, Bell said.

“It’s a safer conversation to say, ‘Go to heartsupport’ than, ‘You should see a counselor,’ even though what they’re really saying is, ‘You should see a counselor.’”

Bell blogs on heartsupport’s depression page.

“We believe everybody’s story is important and that nobody should struggle alone,” he said. “People who are struggling put up walls. We’re trying to kick down as many walls as possible.”

In its first month, had 10,000 hits. Visitors to the site typically range in age from 14 to 40.

The trio largely relies on word-of-mouth to promote the website. They also speak to church groups and at conferences, and starting this month, Bell will take part in a 37-city concert tour that will include a heartsupport booth, where concert-goers can film their own stories to be uploaded to the website.

“If they don’t have anyone around them they feel they can talk to, now they have somewhere to go on their own time, in privacy,” McManaman said. “Maybe this is the step they need in talking to someone face to face.”

Morgan Jarema writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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