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Meet the Drexel Student Advocating for Mental Health Through Her Nonprofit

August 30, 2018

Gabby Frost in a Buddy Project shirt she designed. Photo credit Lexi Shannon.
Gabby Frost in a Buddy Project shirt she designed. Photo credit Lexi Shannon.

For a quarter of her life, Gabby Frost, a junior music industry major in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, has been running Buddy Project, a nonprofit organization she founded that promotes mental health awareness and suicide prevention. She was 15 years old when she started the organization, which pairs young adults struggling with mental health issues with available resources, support and “buddies” to talk with online.

“I’m 20 now, so Buddy Project has been a part of my life for 25 percent of it,” said Frost. “It’s weird to think that it’s been around for that long.”

Certain components of Buddy Project, however, have been a part of her life for even longer. Frost was in middle school when she first started using social media to connect with people online and join communities related to her favorite bands. And it was during her freshman year of high school that she first learned about the importance of mental health and the stigma of mental illness after she discovered her best friend was self-harming and had suicidal thoughts.

One night, as she was scrolling through Twitter, she saw in her feed that three people she followed were tweeting about suicide. That’s when she knew she wanted to do something more to reach out to teens to help them, support them and, most of all, connect them to resources and other people that know what they’re going through or can support them in difficult times. Maybe, she thought, by pairing someone struggling with a friend online, that connection could create a peer support system.

To start Buddy Project, Frost created a Google Doc that people could add their names to in order to be paired with a “buddy” to chat on Twitter or Instagram with based on similar interests and ages.

In the first 12 hours, over 3,000 people signed up. In the first five years, more than 219,000 teens have been paired through the program (currently, the number is over 225,000).

“I just thought it would be something I did when I wasn’t doing anything else,” said Frost. “But now I can’t imagine not being involved with Buddy Project. It has really amplified my passion for mental health awareness.”

Originally started as an online community, Buddy Project became a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2015 and has grown offline to include in-person fundraising events and a campus rep program in which middle school, high school and college students volunteer to spread awareness about mental health care and support on their campuses. 

Frost runs Buddy Project with a strong, and close, support system: her mom is an accountant and helps with finances and fundraising, her aunt is an experienced event planner, her cousin is a social worker and a friend in her major at Drexel helps with PR outreach. The organization also relies on volunteers and partnerships with online influencers to spread the word and continue to build.

The Buddy Project community has continued to grow online, and especially on social media. The official Buddy Project Twitter account has close to 180,000 followers and its Instagram account has over 20,000 followers. Frost runs all of the organization’s social media accounts, which she has curated to share words of positivity and motivation and highlight the importance of mental health.

“Most of the posts are my own words and images for people to see, and just knowing that it makes an impact in people’s lives makes me want to keep doing that and not abuse the following,” she said. “I’m hoping that in the future, more people are open to talking about mental health and supporting platforms that foster those conversations. Just knowing that many people want to see content related to mental health is such a great sign.”

Personally, Frost has almost 38,000 followers on her Twitter account (where she’s verified) and about 31,000 followers on her Instagram account, both of which she uses to discuss mental health awareness in the news, in her life and in pop culture. She’s also used her platform to advocate at forums, conferences and other public venues across the country, and has received awards and honors from publications like Glamour and institutions like Harvard University.

Frost always knew that she wanted to continue Buddy Project while she was in college, but she wasn’t sure how that would work out. She always loved music — that’s why she was using social media in the first place, to connect with fellow music lovers and fans — and Drexel’s music industry program seemed like a natural fit.

Certain courses at Drexel have helped her with growing Buddy Project. During her freshman year, Frost took an ENGL-102 course taught by Jill Moses, an assistant teaching professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, that required students to work on a social cause for a group project — that’s where Frost found inspiration to create the campus rep program.

Last winter, Frost signed up for the “Intro to Digital Design Tools” course offered to students in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design to learn how to redesign the Buddy Project logo. Now, she has the know-all to create all of the graphics and content used on Buddy Project’s social media accounts and campaigns. This summer, she created a design that reads “You have a purpose on this planet” that was printed on shirts, sweatshirts and tank tops as part of Buddy Project’s “You Have a Purpose” campaign to raise awareness for National Suicide Prevention Month this September. So far, over 2,000 shirts have been sold.

This summer, Frost completed her first co-op working at the Fillmore Philadelphia at Live Nation as a premium seating sales intern, helping people with the best way to watch live shows at the Fishtown venue and others across the city, like the TLA and the Tower Theater.

She also started to incorporate music more into Buddy Project, and was inspired to do so after the suicide of Linkin Park’s lead singer Chester Bennington in July 2017 and the release a few months prior of “1-800-273-8255,” a song by rapper Logic whose title is the phone number for the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Buddy Project launched a campaign titled “Music and Mental Health” that highlights the relationship of mental health awareness in the music industry and the relationship between music and mental health. Frost also created a playlist available on Spotify and Apple Music featuring songs related to or with an impact on mental health, and asked “buddies” to share their playlist using a special hashtag.

“Ever since I was set on learning about the music business, I’ve wanted to mesh music and mental health together,” said Frost. “I want to highlight different artists with songs about mental health or who may not have been talking about it necessarily, but a lot of listeners could see it. I want to have people submit articles or write-ups about how music helped them, and interview artists and ask different things about mental health and how it affects artists.”

Next up for Frost? She’ll be studying abroad in Australia in the fall term and hopes to learn more about mental health awareness and music as it relates to the society and culture of a foreign country. And for Buddy Project, she hopes to release a Buddy Project mobile app to connect buddies and offer news and updates.  

“I definitely plan on continuing Buddy Project for as long as I can,” she said. “I’m hoping I can juggle it with working in the music industry and still have both of my passions in life.”

Drexel’s Counseling Center offers free, confidential counseling services to currently enrolled full-time undergraduate and graduate students. For mental health emergencies, any students within the Drexel community are encouraged to contact the Counseling Center at 215.895.1415 during business hours (Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m.–6 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.–5 p.m.) or 215.416.3337 after hours.

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