Breaking free from silence: Speaking out about mental health

2010 March 4
by hummingbird604

This is a re-publish of my post on my personal blog. I thought it would be fitting to have it here too.


photo credit: foxandfeathers

I’ve been pondering for weeks about the slogan for Mental Health Camp Vancouver 2010 (Isabella Mori, one of my closest friends and my co-organizer for MHC is in Europe at the moment, and she has been having to deal with personal stuff, so I haven’t wanted to bother her with bouncing ideas back and forth). We agreed before she left that the theme for Mental Health Camp Vancouver 2010 would be around how silence fosters and perpetuates the stigma of mental illness (stigmatization through silence). Not speaking about mental illness and mental health neglects its importance and cripples the sufferer of any mental illness by not having anyone to tell or anywhere to turn.

Recently, two celebrity parents (Marie Osmond and Walter Koenig) suffered the painful loss of their children, former child-actor Andrew Koenig (who took his life and whose body was found in Stanley Park in Vancouver) and 18-year-old Michael Blosil (who according to reports, leapt to his death this past Friday). A recent TrueSlant article by my friend Lorraine Murphy makes the point that

Celebrity is a two-edged sword, ask anyone famous enough to have an IMDB page, but sometimes that sword can be uplifted to cut through barriers which should never have existed in the first place.

To which I say – ABSOLUTELY TRUE. Lorraine is right. The fact is, if Walter Koenig, Marie Osmond and many other celebrity parents and celebrities themselves can encourage people afflicted with deep depression to seek help when afflicted with suicidal thoughts, the better. I have on more than one occasion said that if there’s anything that I do that has an ulterior motive is use my social media and online popularity to highlight worthy causes (like cancer research, HIV prevention and speaking out about mental health). That’s mostly why I do what I do.

Peekaboo Sunrise

photo credit: keepitsurreal

Up until November of 2003, I had NEVER been afflicted with depression. An overachiever pretty much since I was born, I was one of five amazing brothers. I have had a life that I wouldn’t trade for anyone. Outstanding brothers, adoring parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts, a family that many wish they had born within. And I clearly remember when I told my Mom and Dad “wow, I am so lucky … I don’t know what depression feels like…” Little did I know that I would be heartbroken less than 2 weeks after I said this.

I survived my heartbreak, in no small part thanks to the support of my family, my parents (Mom, primarily) and my friends. And I did seek professional help (I went to Student Services’ Counselling). Five years later, in late November of 2008 (a few months before I even thought about organizing Mental Health Camp), at around 2.40am, I started feeling horribly depressed (not sure why, to this day). I felt like a loser, someone who had accomplished so much in previous years only to be a nobody then. And through talking on GTalk with Lorraine Murphy, she got me out of my rut, helping me reframe how I perceived myself more in line with how others perceived me (a highly successful blogger who came out of nowhere and became very visible in the Vancouver social media community).

Credit: Karen Hamilton (Tiny Bites) on Flickr

Credit: Karen Hamilton (Tiny Bites) on Flickr

After that one episode on November of 2008, I never have felt again really that depressed. I have, on occasion, felt down, blue, and I recognize that I am strongly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) so I have a SAD lamp always available. But I always monitor how I feel, and I always have close friends on speed-dial, Twitter, Facebook and Google Talk.

I have many, many friends who have spoken out openly about depression and silence and speaking out and how it has affected them (recent ones I’ve found are Smutty Steff’s and Cheeky Cici‘s. Sitting in a panel at Northern Voice ’09 on Coping Digitally (organized by Airdrie) and listening first hand the stories of how my friends Tod, Air and Isabella have faced depression/bipolarity, was the one thing that galvanized me to jump and tell Isabella that we needed to organize Mental Health Camp.

Terra makes a really good point – just because we speak out, it doesn’t mean that everyone HAS to speak out. But we both have chosen to do so. I have chosen to speak out, about homophobia, about stigma and mental illness, about the issues that matter to me. I choose to share how I feel because, as Robert Ballantyne pointed out to me on a phone conversation, people appreciate the fact that, no matter how successful or how much of an overachiever I am, I always show myself as I am. I show myself vulnerable.

I have shown you, on this post, that at least on two occasions, I’ve been deeply depressed. And I survived. Thanks to my own internal strength, but also thanks to the fact that I shared how I felt with people who love me and care about me. I have found that sharing the story of my life on my blog, on my Twitter account, helps me a lot. It helps me rebuild strength on a daily basis. You all, who read my site and my tweets, all of those who don’t read my online stuff but with whom I share a bond of love in real life as well, strengthen me on a daily basis.

I choose to speak out because I am tired of silence. So, while I have found the actual motto that I wanted to use for Mental Health Camp Vancouver 2010, “Seeing the Invisible, Speaking about the Unspoken”, I can’t really use it. Why? Because it is the title of a position paper on homophobia in sports by the The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS). So, lovely title, but a cause near and dear to my heart already owns it.

So, I came up with this other motto/slogan – “Breaking free from the shackles of silence: Speaking out about mental health through social media”. It may be a tad too long, and of course, I need to run it by Isabella first, and share it with the rest of the organizing committee, but I figure it kind of encompasses what Isabella and I are trying to accomplish: provide a safe haven for folks to share their stories, to stop the silencing.

Thoughts, as always, most welcome.

Weekly mental health chat on twitter

2010 February 9
by moritherapy

@Abeeliever from Una Vita Bella on Twitter had a fabulous idea: start a regular mental health chat on twitter (Tuesdays at 9pm CST – hashtag #mhsm). I was fortunate enough to take part in it and will give you a taste of what we talked about. Unfortunately I can’t give you everything because Twitter acted up and only let me review part of it.

What does social media do for mental health?

  • social media gives us a bigger voice and more choice without the fear of stigma.
  • social media can help change laws that govern society and the workplace.
  • further insight, inspiration, and communication
  • recently lost my best friend…not in a good state of mind. My twitter friends, I believe, are saving my life
  • Blogging has been a source of healing and also an avenue for spreading awareness, as well
  • the transparency of social media is a wonderful antidote against the stigma associated with #mentalhealth

Mental Health in the work place

  • companies lose a lot of $ from employees in denial or fear about dealing w/ #mentalhealth issues
  • maybe we should call out employers who stigmatize employees with #mentalhealth problems.
  • i wouldn’t want to work for an employer that had a problem that i openly talk about #mentalhealth


  • labels are neutral. can be used for good ie find diagnosis, treatment, resources or for harm ie stigmatizers
  • calling out stigmatizers is not just for you but for others too afraid to call stigmatizers out
  • there can be stigma attached to talking openly about mental health but sometimes you also find unexpected support.
  • One thing I have noticed lately is that when one opens up on Twitter about struggles, there can be a stigma attached.


  • we should remember that misinformation is also a problem outside of social media and the internet
  • Is misinformation a “big” problem regarding #mentalhealth and social media?
  • around the topic of #ADHD the ignorance & stigma on social media esp twitter far outweighs the facts


  • therapy and social media – maybe social media will change therapy the way it has other ways of communication?
  • Perhaps it can…even in subtle ways… e.g. homework: blog about so and so this week

Alcohol and art, depression undertreated and sacred clowns

2010 February 3

A few links for your reading pleasure and edification:

Depression is often undertreated – an article in The Wall Street Jounral (Studies: Mental Ills Are Often Overtreated, Undertreated) – a study by Hector Gonzalez et al, published by the Archives of General Psychiatry. Gonzalez is an assistant professor of family medicine, public health and gerontology at Wayne State University in Detroit.

The Path of the Sacred Clown. Often people diagnosed with mental illness have pronounced spiritual experiences. Perhaps some of this article will resonate.

Finally, here is a candid discussion about alcohol and art.


2010 January 31
by moritherapy

Click here for a guest post by The Barking Unicorn on Isabella’s blog about why people don’t talk about mental illness, using the perhaps a bit controversial term of “nuttiness”.

Beyond Blue

2010 January 29
by moritherapy

Therese Borchard, of the blog Beyond Blue, has a great book out by the same title.  She is someone who speaks out about mental health, shameless hussy that she is 🙂

I’ve written a bit about it here.  I’ve decided that until we get to MentalHealthCamp in July, I’ll post a little link to all mental health related articles on my blog.  One way to easily populate this blog!

And if you want to write for this space, let us know!

Mental Health Camp Vancouver ’10 proposed dates and theme

2010 January 28
by hummingbird604

Isabella and I had been thinking about holding Mental Health Camp after the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. We have been trying to keep the dates fairly flexible as we don’t want to clash with any of the other big social media conferences (Northern Voice 2010 and WordCamp Vancouver 2010). So, as soon as we learned that NV ’10 would be the weekend of May 8th and 9th, and that WordCamp Vancouver might be in June, we thought July would be perfect for Mental Health Camp Vancouver.

We are proposing July 10th as the date for MHC YVR ’10 and the theme to be “Stigmatization Through Silence”. All thoughts and feedback most welcome. The hashtag for Mental Health Camp Vancouver ’10 is #mhcyvr10 and you can follow along the Twitter account MentalHealthC.

The Canada Post Foundation for Mental Health

2009 October 20

Reprinted from Hummingbird604’s blog

Canada Post Foundation for Mental Health For those of you who know that Isabella Mori and I organized Mental Health Camp ’09 (and that we are already thinking about the Mental Health Camp ’10 as well as helping out with the other MHCs worldwide), you know that mental health issues have a special place in my heart. I have to confess that, as much as I thought I was well-informed about mental health work in Canada, I had no clue that Canada Post had a foundation for mental health. And I had no clue that they offered grants, either! Hopefully they’ll deem Mental Health Camp as a worthy effort to support.


2009 July 6
by moritherapy

Moderators, please indicate in the comments which slot you would like to take. The description of the program content is here.

Ride For Mental Health – May 19

2009 May 14

On May 19, 2009, Mel Thompson will be dipping his wheels in the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver and starting a hundred-day journey across the country to raise awareness for mental health and much needed funds to support mental health programs.

Mel Thompson, a 60-year old senior business executive with Xerox Canada, is taking this ride with great seriousness. As the loving father of a daughter diagnosed with Bipolar and Schizoaffective Disorder, Mel has learned first hand the devastating effects and stigma associated with mental illness. In support of his daughter and the many others affected by mental illness, Mel decided to make a difference by putting his efforts towards ‘The Ride for Mental Health.’

Come and be part of this incredible journey by showing your support and sending him on his way with a true Vancouver send off.

Tuesday, May 19

11:00 am – Vanier Park. Mel will dip his wheels in water and cycle up to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where the party awaits him.

Local cyclists can join Mel – to join him on this short ride all you need to do is 1) email Andy to RSVP 2) show up with your bicycle. 3) sign a waiver (available on site)

Click here to email Andy

12:00 (noon) – Vancouver Art Gallery, Georgia Street Side. Celebration Central

· Live music by RadioPlay featuring former Soul Decision Band Member Michael LeBlanc

· Interactive Booths and Tables that feature lots of great tips to promote your own wellness

12:30 pm Fun talk by Dr. Art Hister of CKNW and Global TV on mental health promotion

Mel Thomson takes a moment to reflect on his motivation and inspiration.

Xerox presentation of community fundraising to CMHA Vancouver Burnaby Branch

1:00 pm – Mel’s journey begin.

More information is on the site

Thank you everyone for your support. Please take the time to join us and help us collectively send a message of the importance of mental health and how we can all create change!

Image by singsing

Feedback on Mental Health Camp Vancouver 2009

2009 April 27
by hummingbird604

We are delighted that MHC’09 was such a great experience for everyone. If you participated, we would appreciate your feedback in regards to what could be improved your experience. Very important as well is to find out what worked and what didn’t. We had planned to conduct an exit survey, but we think it’s also good to hear from you all. So, please drop a comment and let us know what worked for you, what didn’t work for you, suggestions to improve Mental Health Camp, and what would you like to see discussed on Mental Health Camp Vancouver ’10. Because, yes, we ARE going to have a MHC’10. See you then, if not before!