It wasn’t a single spark that gave Gabby Frost, Drexel University student, the idea to start Buddy Project in 2013, rather it was multiple instances of witnessing her best friend and people she didn’t know personally on Twitter struggling with mental health.
“When I was in eighth grade, my best friend at the time told me that she was going through suicidal thoughts,” Frost says. “And then, throughout the next year after finding out that she was going through mental health conditions, we saw a lot of other people on Twitter were going through the same things she was going through, so we really started to talk to a lot of people and made sure that people had friends.”
Frost says that she noticed a lot of people on Twitter mentioning how they would turn to social media to find people that would understand what they were going through. “Why not create a system that basically gives someone a friend and guarantees they have a shared interest and are around the same age?”
This spark of an idea soon turned into a wildfire, as Frost received a lot of positive feedback on Twitter. Her idea, which eventually became Buddy Project, started with a Google Doc form for people to get paired with someone, “I think in under twelve hours, there were 3,000 sign-ups, which I didn’t expect to happen,” she says.
Frost attributes this boom of interest in Buddy Project and its concept to word-of-mouth advertising, done through people on Twitter. “I basically just advertised it by tweeting about it on my personal account and then getting people to spread the word about Buddy Project by sharing info from its own account,” she says. “I remember I had a picture that basically explained the idea and a ton of people posted that; it spread organically, I didn’t have to pay for any advertising or marketing.”
Even as Buddy Project continues to grow, Frost continues to do pair buddies herself, something she’s done since the beginning. “The first few buddy pairs were put together kind of fast. I remember I didn’t even have an algorithm to pair people by, at first,” Frost says. “And the first few buddies, people were a little skeptical.”
But the doubt of Buddy Project’s mission has faded as it has attracted more people looking for buddies. “I get a lot of feedback from successful pairs. A lot of people have met in person, a lot of them have actually flown out to wherever their buddy is and they end up hanging out in person,” Frost says. “People that are successful but haven’t met, they say their buddy has really helped them out with their mental health and they’re a good support.”
Two years ago, Buddy Project became a 501(c)(3) non-profit and since then, it has expanded its reach and services to help more people with their mental health. In March of this year, the project started its campus rep program, an open-ended program that can be molded for any campus’ needs.
“I started the campus rep program, actually, out of a project for my English class last year. My teacher wanted us to find a cause we were passionate about and find other people in the class that were also passionate about it,” Frost says. “She wanted us to find a way to make an impact for that cause on campus. I realized that Buddy Project has more of a digital impact than an in-person impact, so I thought that I would do something on college campuses.”
Her class project began what would be the campus rep program for Buddy Project, a program that is also present at middle schools and high schools, not just on college campuses. The reps bring awareness to mental illness through a variety of ways; there is no set or pre-determined way to be a Buddy Project campus rep.
“It first started off as people holding up signs but now I basically give people open-ended things they can do, and they go from there,” Frost says. “I want to be able to give them the resources that they need in order to start making a change. And all a campus rep really needs to do is try and spread awareness on their campus in some way.”
Buddy Project has also started to run campaigns on their website, their most recent ones being “You Are Not Alone” and “Music and Mental Health.” These campaigns aim to increase awareness about mental health through different actions such as sharing a personal story, buying a t-shirt or talking about the issue on different social media platforms.
“Right now, we are doing ‘You Are Not Alone’, which is a campaign I started back in September. It was for National Suicide Prevention Month and it was very successful,” Frost says. “This time, we’re going to focus it more on mental health during the holidays because a lot of people feel like they struggle alone during the holidays with their mental health, that no one is really there for them, so I feel like talking about that will definitely help decrease the stigma and help people.”
“Music and Mental Health” is another campaign Buddy Project is doing, inspired after the death of musician Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park who committed suicide in July of this year and the release of Logic’s song “1-800-273-8255” in April of this year.
“I started this campaign to highlight how music helps people cope and helps them talk about things like mental health that are hard to talk about,” Frost says. “We want to be able to have people send in their stories with how music has affected their mental health, in any kind of way.”
Frost also talks about wanting to interview artists about mental health, from artists that are featured on a playlist she put together for this campaign to artists that speak up about mental health in general.
“Although a lot of artists do write about mental health,” she says. “I feel like not many of them actually get the platform to talk about that. There have been artists that have talked about it, but I just feel like not a lot of music publications. They don’t really want to talk about that, they want to talk about things that are more important to the business.”
As Buddy Project grows, especially with the help of these campaigns, the level of engagement in Buddy Project grows. Frost says she’s been surprised with how the engagement with BP has grown over the years and compares Buddy Project’s first tweets to tweets now in terms of engagement.
“I remember when I looked back at our tweets, that seemed like so much engagement,” Frost says. “I think it’s really cool that more people are getting on board with talking about mental health and that more people want to become part of the movement because they want to feel like they’re part of a community.”
Frost’s future goals include a Buddy Project app that will automatically pair buddies up and run successfully, replacing the manual buddy pairing she does. Another goal that Frost has for her organization is to also continue fundraising money, perhaps at a larger scale, to be able to donate it to mental health and recovery centers.
“It’s just wild to me that a very simple idea and just one moment in your life can change your life entirely. I really don’t even know what I’d be doing if I didn’t have Buddy Project,” Frost says. “I’ve put in a lot of work into it and just knowing it actually helps people make me super happy and knowing that there are people out there that appreciate what I’m doing, it just makes me want to do even more.”