Do Not Suffer in Silence

karen@khaleejtimes.com Filed on October 30, 2015 | Last updated on October 30, 2015 at 02.19 pm
Do Not Suffer in Silence

Abu Dhabi residents Stefan and Megan Ritsch are hoping their website - a social enterprise that provides free mental wellbeing resources - will help break the glass ceiling in seeking therapy

Abu Dhabi residents Stefan and Megan Ritsch are hoping their website - a social enterprise that provides free mental wellbeing resources - will help break the glass ceiling in seeking therapy

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in four of the world's seven billion people are affected by a mental health condition. Yet two-thirds of those people never seek help, predominantly because of the shame that comes with doing so.

Growing up on a small island in the South Pacific called Norfolk Island - which has a population of about 1,700 - Australian expat Megan French-Ritsch (pronounced 'rich') saw a lot of people who were "very reticent to seek help for their mental ailments, for fear of what others would say". In her own family too, she saw members who preferred to suffer in silence. None of them had access to counsellors - even though suicides were not uncommon - and talking to other people was not a viable option because then "they'd be labelled the crazy one".

Do Not Suffer in Silence (KT36741028.JPG)
BRINGING HOPE: Stefan and Megan Ritsch launched their dream project, Enritsch, after 10 years of patient planning

It was the same story when she started working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS), an aero-medical service providing support to rural and remote areas, and her husband Stefan joined the Red Cross in Germany. In both places, the couple was exposed to the struggles that people - especially those in indigenous communities - faced because of the stigma associated with mental conditions.

"It all crystallised [for us, in the end] and we knew we had to do something. provide a social platform or build a community that provides much-needed resources to the end consumer for free," says Stefan, who hails from Austria.

But the Ritschs' dream of starting their own social enterprise to help those in need was going to have to wait. "Intent is good but, without the right resources, it's not going to be good enough," he explains.

The couple instead focused on three foundational pillars they knew would be critical to their success: travel, education and financial freedom. "We've tried to live and work in culturally diverse communities, just so we could experience different cultures and understand people better (one of the reasons we chose to come and work in the Middle East)," says Megan. "We've been studying and working full-time for the last 15 years (the duo have six post graduate degrees between them), and that education has opened the door to good careers - which, in turn, is helping us achieve the third pillar: financial freedom to achieve our humanitarian goals."

It's been a long time coming but, earlier this month, Stefan and Megan were finally able to launch Enritsch, a digital one-stop shop to help anyone, anywhere, discover a positive state of mental wellbeing, by providing them with access to the most credible educational resources and experts available - for free.

"It's all about 'enritsch-ing' people's lives around the world," says Stefan, , who quit his job in project finance late last year to found the brand. "Yes, it's a very quirky brand name," he laughs. "Megan came up with it. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for anything, except the surname!"

The founders say the main focus of the website is to educate and help people make informed decisions about their mental health needs - which can run the gamut from bipolar disorder and depression that sets in as a result of physical or emotional conditions to bullying and anxiety.

Users can join the online community, find out about new trends and developments in the field, seek advice from experts, download resources such as videos and apps, locate service providers, read and leave reviews about those service providers, and access special offers.

On the business end of things, Enritsch also offers licensed, credible businesses the chance to list their services on the site, while 25 per cent of the net profits will be channelled back into charities that deliver mental health support services.

"It's not self-diagnosis, and we're not giving out medical advice," Stefan is quick to clarify. "But traditional medicine is still a bit underestimated these days, and always resorting to tablets or doctors is not the right approach, because there are a lot of other alternative therapies that can be explored."

The entrepreneur is speaking from experience, he says, and tells of the time he visited a doctor for debilitating back pain, a few years ago. "I could see the dollar signs in his eyes," says Stefan. "He looked at my insurance card and said: 'Perfect. Everything is covered; you'll just need an operation and everything will be all right.' I said, I'm 35 - what do you mean you want to cut up my spinal cord? But he only said: 'Don't worry; your insurance covers everything.' I wasn't worried about my insurance. I was worried about me. It was very frustrating. But then someone suggested I visit an osteopath. I'd never heard of one at that point but, five sessions of osteopathy later, I was good as new."

It's all about finding what's right for you, says Stefan. "Osteopathy was right for me. It might be something else for you, but our aim is to give you all the information - for both modern and alternative medicine - at your fingertips so you can make an informed decision for yourself." The important thing is to keep the dialogue on mental health going, he adds. "Thirty years ago, talking about breast cancer was taboo - not anymore. If we keep this up, we can erase the stigma that comes with seeking help for mental ailments too."

Speaking of her community back home, Megan says, "If the people I knew back then could've accessed the right health care, without the rest of the community knowing, they'd have done it and it would've changed how things turned out for them in the end. Unfortunately, we don't have buckets of money to throw around and help people in need - but I feel like we're on the start of a journey that can benefit millions around the world. This is just the beginning."

karen@khaleejtimes.com

author

Karen Ann Monsy

A ‘Dubai child’, Karen has been writing for magazines for close to a decade. She covers trends, community, social issues and human interest features. Whether it’s overcoming disability, breaking stereotypes or simply relating the triumphs of everyday lives, she seeks out those stories that can uplift, encourage and inspire. You can find her favourite work at www.clippings.me/karenannmonsy


 
 
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