Shaley Hoogendorn will be facilitating conversations on mental health every Wednesday in February at Open Door Church in Maple Ridge. (Contributed photo)

Free mental health convos aim to fight stigma

Open Door Church to host four nights of stories and conversations about mental health

As wonderful as Bell Let’s Talk Day is, Shaley Hoogendorn thinks there needs to be more than one day a year in which mental health is discussed.

She will host Wired: Conversations in Mental Health at Open Door Church in Maple Ridge every Wednesday this month. Hoogendorn said she came up with the idea after producing Sisters in Mental Illness, a vlog series where she interviewed women from all of the world who have mental health disorders.

“I’m super passionate about it because ten years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and I found people don’t talk about it or it’s really uncomfortable [to do so],” she said.

“And I’m just finding in the work that I’m doing there are so many of us out there and there is so much shame and stigma, so I wanted to bring a little bit of what I’m trying to do online into our community.”

READ MORE: Better mental health supports for students in SD42

She stressed the event will be open to everyone who is interested in learning more about mental health, it’s not necessarily just for people with illnesses or diagnoses.

It is important to Hoogendorn that the events spark meaningful discussion. She will have some speakers booked but is hoping to interview the guests and then open the conversation to the audience, whether it is in small group discussions or an open forum.

“One of the things that I truly believe is that the only way we’re going to be able to start ending this stigma is to be able to talk,” she said.

“We need to hear all voices. So if people feel comfortable, they will absolutely will have a chance to share their stories.”

Hoogendorn says the first session, which takes place Feb. 5, will see the group discussing mental health, mental illness, grief and burnout. Week two (Feb. 12) will talk about mental health in faith communities. Week three (Feb 19) will be a discussion about mental health in the family, where Hoogendorn plans to talk about how it can affect more than just the individual with the illness. Week four (Feb 26) will be a panel discussion where the lessons learned from the previous three weeks will be unpacked.

READ MORE: COLUMN: Parents need to get informed about mental health illnesses

The mental health advocate is excited to see what comes of the sessions.

“Ever since I shared my story online or while public speaking, it’s amazing how many people have come forward that have never told anyone before. They’ve just been living in silence.”

Hoogendorn hopes she can help bring that silence to an end.

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