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Meet The Woman Making It Easier To Ask For Help

Asking for help when you’re struggling with an illness or bereavement can be overwhelming. This app makes it simple for your friends and family to help you.

By Anna Saunders

When someone you love is struggling under the weight of grief or battling a serious illness, it can be difficult to know how to help. And while frozen lasagnes and fresh flowers are lovely gestures of support, they’re often not what people in crisis actually want or need.

That’s why psychologist Dr Susan Palmer launched Gather My Crew, a free app that makes it easy for friends and family to volunteer for specific, practical tasks – from cooking dinner to washing clothing and ferrying kids to sports practice.

“People will often say, ‘Let me know what I can do to help,” says Dr Palmer. “But they are often so overwhelmed they don’t know where to begin.”

Since Gather My Crew launched in 2017, it has been used by more than 40,000 people, who have contributed more than 250,000 hours of help and support.

Here, Dr Palmer explains the moment that she decided to found Gather My Crew…

Tell us about the moment that changed everything…
I’m a psychologist by training and I’ve spent the past couple of decades working predominantly with people with cancer, along with those affected by spinal injury, diasbility and other really difficult health situations.

And I would always tell people, when they’re going through something like that, to make sure they engage their family and friends, and ask for help, because you can really only go through some of life’s most awful events if you’ve got support around you.

I’d been saying this for years. And then, one of the mums [at my kids’ school] was about to have back surgery and she had five-year-old twins, and a Fly-In-Fly-Out [FIFO] husband.

I said the classic thing, ‘Tell me what you need’, and she just burst into tears and said she didn’t have anyone to pick the kids up from school on the day of the surgery. She was so overwhelmed.

So, I jumped into action and messaged the class list, and we had 30 people who were ready to help. I created a spreadsheet and people had some availability, but they’d pull out or they couldn’t do this or that… and it became apparent very quickly that all the things I’d been suggesting to patients were quite impossible in real life.



So, how did you come up with the idea for the app?
I started calling colleagues and asking what [programs] they recommended, and they all said, ‘We don’t have any, but if you build it, we’ll use it.’ Then I went on maternity leave and thought, ‘What a great way to spend my maternity leave!’

I thought I’d give myself 12 months and if I could pull it together on maternity leave, I’d keep going. I reached out to people I knew and had the app developed pro bono. Then, when we built it, we received funding from the Lord Mayor’s charitable foundation [in Melbourne].

Did you ever imagine you’d run a not-for-profit organisation?
I’ve always wanted to make a change. I’ve spent my career trying to make a change and do things differently. So maybe it’s not surprising. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve done.


What is a moment that has made it all worthwhile?
I work extremely hard; it’s certainly a passion project. There are times when it’s just overwhelming and exhausting. And always, at moments when I’m at my lowest, a story drops into my inbox from someone [who has used the app] and just wants to say thank you. And that is honestly the reason I keep going.

We recently had a story from a woman who was a cleaner at the local primary school and her husband suddenly died. She told the school and went home, not expecting anything more.

And the school community came together and created a support crew [on Gather My Crew], and gave her food, made her meals and even provided extra donations.

Those things don’t make it ‘better’ when your husband has died. But it keeps things ok, and it makes you feel loved and connected and supported.

We had another woman, called Kat, who was diagnosed with really quite aggressive breast cancer when she was a newly single mum with a one year old and a three year old. She found out in December and the idea of what she was going to do with the kids was so overwhelming for her that she refused treatment.

It was only when a breast cancer nurse sat down with her and [showed her the app], and she set up a support crew of 40 of her friends that she was able to say yes to her treatment.

When people are going through something difficult, it’s really important that we don’t add the burden of expecting them to know and come to you with suggestions of how to help

If there’s one thing you wish people understood about what it’s like to go through a crisis, what would it be?
I would tell people to stop saying, ‘Let me know if I can help’. Because for the people we talk to it’s the worst thing you can say. It completely shuts them down. They are in a world of pain, they are often so overwhelmed that they don’t know where to begin.

When people are going through something difficult, it’s really important that we don’t add the burden of expecting them to know and come to you [with suggestions of how to help].

When you’re not running Gather My Crew, what do you do?
I still do clinical work a few days a week. I’m a mum of four kids, so I’m pretty busy! But I’ve just started a movie club, which I’m really loving – just random movie nights with friends.

What’s your worst habit?
Talking! Talking too much, all the time, over people! It takes me ages to do anything because I have to stop and have a conversation with everyone.

Finish this sentence… nothing feels better than…
A cuddle.

You can download Gather My Crew here.

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Know of a woman who is making a difference who we should feature in this column? Contact anna@primer.com.au


BY Anna Saunders

Anna is the co-founder of PRIMER. She has downloaded Gather My Crew.

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