WOW! That’s all I can start with – WOW! It was amazing!! It was an amazing weekend at the Together Strong conference! I was overwhelmed with valuable information – overwhelmed in a good way. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, something boring; professionals lecturing and using $10 words; sad, mopey parents telling of their heartbreaking journeys with their children…but that’s not what I got.
What I did get was a mountain of information and techniques that would help me better parent my children. I met wonderful people who have empowered themselves, their children and their communities to acknowledge and accept the truth about children’s mental health issues. These amazing parents, educators and mental health professionals are committed to changing the face of mental health, both children’s mental health and adult’s mental health – how it’s perceived, how it’s treated and how it’s shunned.
The Together Strong Conference was sponsored by Parents for Children’s Mental Health and the Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention. The conference opened on Friday morning at University of Western Ontario‘s Engineering Department facilities with Sarah Cannon’s keynote presentation “Suicide the “S” Word”. Sarah spoke candidly about her husband’s battle with bi-polar disorder and her daughter’s bi-polar diagnosis at age 5 . Sarah bared her heart as she described the time leading up to her husband’s suicide eight years ago and the guilt she feels over that loss.
After Sarah’s presentation the group broke into two sessions, one given by Eric Windeler called the Jack Project and the second presented by Dr. Ian Manion, Bridging the Gap Between Suicide Prevention and Child and Youth Mental Health. Since my daughter has expressed suicidal ideation in the past I chose to attend Dr. Manion‘s talk. I will discuss what I took away from that presentation in another blog later this week. Although I didn’t attend the talk about the Jack Project it, too, was well received. The mission of the Jack Project is to “Inspire a national culture of informed compassion and care for emerging adults suffering from mental illness.” This project is named for Jack Windeler, a first-year student at Queen’s University, who died of suicide in March, 2010. He asked that his experience be used to help others in need and his family and friends have chosen to honour his request with this endeavour.
During lunch I watched a documentary by the National Film Board called Racing Thoughts. The director, Louiselle Noel, interviewed four young people who suffer from various diagnoses, and their families, over the course of a year. The families and the young people were open and frank about their struggles with mental health illness. The families described the varied emotions that a loved one goes through with frankness – denial, anger, despair, hopelessness, regret, guilt, acceptance, remorse. The youths discussed the difficulties they faced accepting the truth of their diagnoses and the lifestyle changes that were necessary in order to cope with their illnesses. It was heart wrenching and beautiful all at the same time.
The afternoon sessions were presented by Dr. Jennifer Brasch and Dr. Judith Springer. Dr. Brasch presented the workshop entitled “119 Stories of Recovery after Attempted Suicide: The Reasons to Go On Living Project” while Dr. Springer presented “Building a Competent School Community for Workshop Youth Suicide Prevention: The Lifelines Model“. I attended Dr. Springer’s presentation and will write more about that talk later in the week.
I was unable to attend the Gala dinner, held at The Ivey Spencer Leadership Center, which featured keynote speaker Elizabeth Manley, “Canada’s Sweetheart”, who shared her personal journey with mental health. I understand it was a fabulous evening enjoyed by all.
On Saturday morning we were greeted with the sound styling of Saidat and KZ of Music, Movement and Motivation. Music, Movement and Motivation is a very successful motivational program that Saidat and her crew present to students of all ages throughout Southwestern Ontario. Saidat and KZ shared a new program aimed at an adult audience emphasizing the lessons she shares with her young audiences – Stop, Think about our actions and Speak out for change. Some of the audience became emotional as Saidat told about her own struggles parenting a child with autism.The audience listened attentively while Saidat encouraged us to continue our mission to implement change for the benefit of all children and youth. Please see Saidat’s website for further information about booking Movement, Music and Movement for your event, Saidat is happy to bring Music, Movement and Motivation to schools and/or functions throughout the province.