Speaking at Technology for Well-Being
Last year, I was privileged to be involved in ReachOut.com’s inaugural Technology for Well-Being Conference. It was an incredibly positive and energising day, but before I go any further, I’d like to give you a potted version of my background and why I was there.
I’m not a mental health professional, researcher, or student but I am painfully familiar with mental illness. I have clinical depression, and was also recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
The two are a powerful combination, and have caused some extremely tough times for my family and I over the last seven years, including a five week stint in a psychiatric unit. Thankfully, and to everyone’s relief, I’m well at the moment and doing everything I can to ensure I stay that way.
One of the key factors in this is writing. I blog about how it is for us, the good, the bad and the ugly of living with a mental illness (and yes, some good has come of it but that’s for another day) and the blog has opened up a lot of new avenues for me.
Chief among these, is I now recognise just how much need there is out there to create an environment in which it’s OK to talk about mental illness and being unwell. Also, how much work goes into creating and maintaining the resources which can go towards helping people to help themselves. Last year’s conference was a huge step in the right direction.
The most positive thing I took away from it all is the level of commitment there is out there to make access to online support for mental health issues more available, more interactive and more user friendly.
There’s a huge body of awareness of just how urgent the need for that support is, now more than ever. There were some truly shocking and saddening statistics about levels of suicide:
- There is one suicide every 82 minutes in the UK and Ireland
- 1,000,000 people in Ireland experience poor mental health and harbor thoughts of suicide and hopelessness.
What was also apparent is how many organisations are working towards the same end, but that the difficulty is in raising awareness for the average internet user. How do people know what sites are reliable? How do they know where to find the best source of information? How can they access appropriate help for the problem at hand? What is appropriate help anyway?
For myself, as a user of mental health services, what’s frustrating in a way is that there is so much energy, so much innovation, so much knowledge about how to help, but at the same time, there’s no one definitive source.
Starting to work together
While I know there can never be a “one size fits all” solution, it would be fantastic to see some of the promised government funding going towards providing organisations the opportunity to work together more, bring all the fantastic ideas into one place, and go from there.
Last year’s conference was the first step in that direction, and hats off to Reachout.com for taking the initiative. There is no shortage of enthusiasm, no shortage of ideas. It was acknowledged more than once throughout the event that we are in the very early days of bringing the conversation about mental illness, and mental health, out into the light. But it is happening. It will continue to happen.
Sharing my perspective
And for me? For my part I feel absolutely privileged to have been a part of it, not just to hear about some of the wonderful work that is on-going, but to have actually been given the opportunity to share my perspective.
That of an average person with a mental illness, trying to make sense of that illness and find my way through it the best that I can. I know I wasn’t the most engaging speaker of the day, nor the most relaxed. But that’s not what’s important.
If even just one person in that room took away the message of just what a difference it has made to me to be able to talk about how I’m doing, of how valuable any support I’ve received has helped to that end, then as far as I’m concerned job done.
Listening to improve
The very fact that I was actually given the opportunity to speak was enough. The people who are working for those of us with a mental illness want to hear about what works for us, and as long as they keep listening, things can only improve.
To quote the closing comments of Dr Colin Hunt, CEO of ReachOut.com: “The issue of mental health is finally emerging from the shadows”. Long may the sun continue to shine!
Fiona will also be speaking at this year’s conference.
>>>Find out more about this year’s upcoming conference