Ladner mental health conference gives participants sense of hope

Genesis Theatre was the place to be Jan. 18 for the inaugural Let’s Talk Hope conference in Ladner.

The day was about connection, community and hearing from everyone. What made this event so special? Not only did the conference bring organizations -- National Hope Talks, 140 Sports Association, and Alongside You -- from different provinces together, it linked more than 130 participants and well over 25 volunteers, storytellers, non-profit organizations and workshop leaders who were from all walks of life, ranging in age, stage, ability and diagnosis.  

It was no surprise the feedback from the attendees was that it was both fun, educational and different.

Unlike your typical conference, the education part of the day was hearing from individuals with lived experience who shared their personal story of dealing with mental health issues. Both young and old took to the stage and showed great courage, bravery and vulnerability, making way for others to share their stories. The dance and art workshops were interactive, creative and encouraged participants to try new things.

One of the most enriching segments of the day was the incubator period where participants mingled and formed groups of eight to discuss what they were seeing in terms of mental health struggles and what they could offer in terms of solutions. Grandparents, youth, educators, high-performance athletes, business owners, youth workers, health-care workers and parents sat down together to listen to each other.

The rules were simple: everyone had two minutes to share, and did not have to share if they didn't want. The goals were to listen more than talk, avoid the urge to fix people, use empathetic statements and look for what is common.

Not only did this provide a blueprint of how to have meaningful conversations about mental health at the conference, it no doubt introduced skills that are key in learning how to support and encourage others. 

As each group took common themes from their conversations, the top five issues around mental health, according to those in Delta, were: the need to create community, the need to learn how to support those faced with mental health issues, the ability to foster a better understanding of mental health issues, the desire to normalize/destigmatize mental illness, the need to educate others about different types of mental health issues and how to ask for help.

The conference gleaned some very valuable information and now it is up to the community to work together to support existing programs, and implement new and innovative initiatives in schools, health organizations, community and recreational services, sports associations and care services that centre around these themes.

The day ended with dancing and cheering, and left everyone feeling energized, motivated and, above all, strengthened with a renewed sense of hope.

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