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MentalHealthCamp – breaking the stigma of mental health through online tools

I attended Airdrie Miller, Tod Maffin and Isabella Mori’s talk at Northern Voice three weeks ago called Coping Digitally. During this session, the presenters (as well as some audience members) shared stories about what it looks like to extend this area of our lives into the online realm, and what benefits doing so has given to them specifically, as well as what that can give to those with mental health challenges.

Isabella and Raul have been the primary busy-bees, securing a venue (WorkSpace), a date (April 25) and getting a website up for the event. So if this seems like something up your alley, I’d encourage you to think a bit about the topic, and sign up to attend if you’re in the area.

I myself haven’t registered yet, mostly because I’m rolling around the idea of doing a presentation or volunteering rather than just showing up for the day. At the same time, I’d want to make sure I have something meaningful to contribute that others would find value in. So here are some bullet points on that:

  • As I have become more aware of my interaction with others and of my personal power in my relationships, I’ve realized how important language of empowerment is – and in some cases, even just language more broadly. One interest that I have (that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to meaningfully pursue) is exploring mental health issues with immigrant populations – is there research on whether it is more effective using a second language, or their native tongue? What is the status of mental health stigma more generally in non-English media, and how are efforts at pushing that envelope? This is entirely out of self-interest; however, with populations around the world being more mobile and cultures more in flux, my read is that the ways of dealing with mental health issues the way my grandparents did – through self-medication, secret lives or behind closed doors – seems less and less viable all the time. On a more specific, linguistic level, I’ve found English to be amazingly malleable in making words match the concepts — people change and adapt phrases all the time to reflect, however artificially, a higher level of thinking that is non-judgmental, inclusive and accepting. But I can imagine that with other languages (say, the one I have most personal experience with, Cantonese) this willingness to shift things might not exist the same way. On one level I know the “answer” to this is ever vigilence on the level of speakers and media. On another, I’m trying to keep the cultural relatavism in check – “the way it’s always been” can be particularly attractive, and I think individuals are often buffet themselves from being challenged in their thinking.
  • Personal data-mining and online tool crafting for self-improvement. I probably know more about the second part of this than the first part, but I’m definitely interested in the idea that our online experience is a reflection of our mental experience; and just like we need to actively shape and do meta-work on how things are going in our mind, feeling like we have a measure of control over the tools we use on a daily basis feels central to being comfortable with whatever system we set up for ourselves to cope, survive and thrive. I think it’s important to emphasize that it’s not just for the sake of being fitter, happier, or more productive (though it can certainly be that), but that it’s based on a personal affirmation to participate in the world, however that looks like. (I also have Richard‘s recent notes on achieving goals from Pete Quily‘s talks with CHADD strongly in mind on this topic.)
  • Growing up online. Need to check out the Dan Tapscott on this, all I’ve got is personal anecdotal evidence. ;) I do find the concept interesting though – that interacting with the hive mind during the development of our personalities shapes the trajectory and road conditions of that path. More broadly, I’m interested in the idea that being online can have positive or negative effects on certain personality types or amplify certain tendencies, and the role of awareness in helping manage one’s use of online tools, just like any individual’s relationship to things like video games, food, Battlestar Galactica, etc. This is the sort of thing that I’m not entirely sure Media Literacy is covering (and frankly, I know little about how widespread or popular Media Literacy is below the post-secondary level at all).

So no shortage of things I want to gab about. Any thoughts you have on these topics? Anything you’d personally want to see at MentalHealthCamp?

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  1. karen, thank you so much for thinking about this in so much depth!

    i must say that i find the third topic terribly interesting. without much reflection, i'm thinking how this could touch on the topic of internet addiction. it may also be a good time to talk about something like 2nd life (something that i have stayed away from precisely because i'm already skirting internet addiction – don't want to tempt myself too much!)

    the first topic is interesting to me, as well – diversity is something that is never talked about enough, and there is no question that most mental health services are used and provided by caucasians. (btw, are you aware of the chinese mental health group at the CMHA – which just got cut by 30%?)

    actually, all three topics are interesting :)

    Posted March 21, 2009 at 12:36 am | Permalink
  2. Isabella,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    The issue is so multi-faceted, like all interactions of people and technology. There are some things that we may view as being positive and some that, for a whole swath of reasons, we may view as being neutral, negative, or very detrimental to the values we hold dear. I think that's what draws me to keep coming back to the academic realm on this topic: seeing how the technologies challenge us to redefine or rearticulate our values in the face of what we individually and collectively weren't able to do or be before.

    I did not know about the Chinese mental health group. I did know, however, that SUCCESS has counseling services, which IIRC are mostly directed towards new immigrants but also have some broader outreach. My read is that differences embedded in cultural interpretations (for instance, focus on past vs. future, collective vs. individual desires) make providing mental health support a particularly sticky challenge, beyond simply overcoming the language.

    Yes, all three topics are interesting, and hopefully we'll be able to get some people involved who might know something about these topics to answer me and my questions :)

    Posted March 22, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink
  3. countablyinfinite


    An update! The Internet delivers some data points on the question of Chinese Canadians specifically and mental health.

    This study by Chen and Kazanjian looks at primary health care providers (GPs, in Canada) and language, specifically Chinese Canadians, and points out of a lot of interesting things. I found this bit in the abstract relevant:

    For appropriate mental health services to be provided, clinicians must be able to exchange information with their patients and understand their mental health status within the cultural context. In many cultures, psychological disturbances are expressed as somatic symptoms or not considered health issues at all. Thus, if Chinese immigrants with emotional distress seek medical care, they often present with somatic complaints. Whether the underlying mental health issues are solicited and recognized is crucial to access to services.

    I don't know what a “somatic complaint” is. There are also some interesting numbers on the chances of receiving mental health diagnoses and mental health consultation. I'm certainly bookmarking this one for future reference and more detailed combing.

    Posted April 2, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  4. bella_rs

    Hi Karen,
    It was awesome to meet you Sat, at the #mhc09. You provided much positive energy to me and hope for my struggles to achieve all I want to with my mh struggles. Thank you.

    Posted April 27, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

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