MentalHealthCamp – the power of social media

here are my opening notes to MentalHealthCamp yesterday; they followed raul’s great introduction to the workings of social media.  we decided that he would be the social media guy and i’d be the mental health gal.  (how well raul and i worked together deserves a whole post by itself).

i managed to present most of what’s in the notes; the rest of it got substituted by slightly teary-eyed stumbled-over words about suicide.

here we go:

· 20% of canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. that’s about 3 times the people that live in greater vancouver.
· in the US, it is estimated that every hour, three people take their own lives.
· almost 50% of those who suffer from depression or anxiety never see a health professional. for bc alone, that’s equivalent to the population of all of burnaby, all suffering in silence
· the economic cost of mental illnesses in canada is $15 billion. that is $1 more than the british columbia government is planning on spending on 88,000 jobs to stimulate the economy
· the british columbia government just cut psychiatric and mental health beds and mental health treatment programs. staff in the adult mental health division will be cut by 70 percent and the mental health advocate position was eliminated.

okay, enough of this statistical gloominess. most of us know it already anyway. we can lament it – or we can do something about it.

one of the reasons why i love cyberspace and have been fascinated with it for almost 25 years now is that it transcends. it transcends geographical boundaries, that we all know. but it transcends way more boundaries than that.

the internet is the nervous system of this planet, says the hippy internet manifesto. if that’s the case, then of course it transcends everything because it is everything. there’s no places the nervous system won’t go.

consequently, there are no places we here won’t go because we are the internet. raul and sandra and terra everyone here, we are the internet. it’s quite heady when you think of it. you know how they always say, we are the nation? well, in cyberspace that’s true in a strangely real way.

so – if we are the internet, and if we are the people who transcend, what does that mean for mental health and mental illness?

it means that the stigma that traditionally comes with mental illness does not need to be a scarlet letter anymore; we can declare this stigma a mistake that arose out of misunderstanding, and we’re amply equipped to fix it.

it means you, and most importantly i, can get the message out that depression and anxiety can often be cured, and can always be managed.

why do i say, “most importantly, i”? it’s not because i am a terribly important person in the internet but it’s because of what a famous rabbi said hundreds of years ago, “if not i, who?” i’m the most important person because i need to take responsibility.

we are all taking responsibility today. we’re ready to deal with the mistake of stigma.

we’re ready to say out loud that it’s crazy – yes, crazy – that six million canadians feel afraid of discussing an illness that’s even more common than asthma. yes, as many canadians are dealing with lung disease as are with mental illness. it’s totally ok for your daughter to bring her inhaler to school. but when your 11-year-old son wants to bring his teddy bear when anxiety hits him, people laugh.

that’s not okay!

i brought my stuffy, by the way. her name is sarah. everyone, meet sarah (that’s her in the picture above). when i feel confused or panicked in the middle of the night. i hug her.

okay … what else are we responsible for? we are, clearly, not responsible for people taking their own lives. this tragic decision is very personal and is always, always, the sole decision of the person in question.

however, most people who take their own lives are unimaginably lonely. we can bring community to people. we can be available. we can be inclusive. that’s the power of social media.

as for the ridiculous lack of financial support for people with mental illness, that’s – well, ridiculous.

the internet gives us power to speak. we can talk to the government, we can lobby – we have the power to do that. i’m not saying it’s easy, but we do have power. the rise of obama showed how the internet changed election coverage and therefore influenced election outcomes. we have this power in our hands. we can lobby and influence.

but there’s another side to it, too, and that brings me back to this conference. there’s a sense in which we don’t need the government.

remember, we are the central nervous system.

when we feel so inclined, let’s go lobby the government.

but that’s not what we’re doing right now.

i believe that what we’re doing right here is more powerful than trying to change the mind of a slow-moving government.

it took us two months, pretty much to the day, to dream up this conference and to bring you here, to this event that i’d like to humbly submit is groundbreaking, definitely the first of its kind. we didn’t need a government, we didn’t need money, we just said let’s do it and here we are.

that is the power of social media. let’s use it.


  1. Cyberspace is a good place to socialize even if the connectivity and the communication through words is not the same than we are in the middle of the others. But …maybe in the future the communication from distance will be more complete

    Bogdan’s last blog post..GPS Guide Aquisition

  2. Way to get out there and utilize the net to address that elephant in the international room. The topic of mental illness is very taboo (in Canadian culture, anyway, I cannot speak for elsewhere) and I’m sure this is a major reason for why people do not seek help. Emotions such as shame, embarrassment and denial are negative driving factors that prevent individuals from seeking help (or their families from addressing the problem). After reading this, I must give my best friend kudos…she suffers with an anxiety disorder, and dealt with it via alcohol. Needless to say, the anxiety and alcohol became best friends with one another and she fell into an uncontrollable spiral. But since she’s gone for weekly psychological treatment last year, she has done a 180 turn around! Now she eats well, has given up the drink WITHOUT AA meetings, exercises, and has a positive outlook on life! I never realized until she changed, what a negative outlook she had. It was her shadow of fear that drove her to view the world with this dismal glasses. I am so happy she saw past the stigma and helped herself. Thank you for posting this, the more people who this reaches (even if it may be by “do follow blog” searches), the better. 🙂 Keep changin’ the world! 😀

    Montreal Web Deisgn’s last blog post..Luft & Co – New Client, New Design

  3. WTG, Isabella and Raul especially, and everyone else who participated!

    I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to the gov’t cuts.

    But in the spirit of “appreciative inquiry” I believe the kinds of events that you and Raul just pulled together can do so much to help and empower people.

    You’ll like knowing that 2 young women, Yellowknife’s answer to @miss604, and I, met on Sat. to discuss how social media could provide avenues for people in the north who are suffering with mental illness – acute up here – double the national average.

    Vive la revolution!

    nancy (aka moneycoach)’s last blog post..Personal Praxis: The Banishing of Bottled Water from my lifestyle. Oh my!

  4. what a great day it was! the practical sessions on how to deal with privacy, safety, flame wars and social media have given me the confidence to post more twitter updates and follow people i don’t know personally

    jael’s last blog post..The Coolest News site

  5. I ask, when is mental health going to become just another medical condition? It will probably take a while, but thanks to all of us here on the internet, hopefully people will come to view it from a strengths based perspective, versus from the medical model perspective. We are all human beings with degrees of problems, but with degrees of strength as well.

  6. The facts you stated are really interesting. I love the idea of the Internet being a sort of nervous system for the planet. I’ve been advocating that idea for some time. This generation of students, teens, and youth in general are being raised in a vastly different world from anything we’ve seen before. Young people get anxious when they’re away from their mobiles for too long.

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