Yesterday was the second annual Reachout.com Technology for Well-Being International Conference, and I was privileged to both attend and speak at the event. The theme this year was ‘bridging the digital disconnect’:
‘While many of us remain reluctant to ask for help when going through tough times, technology has become the great ‘enabler’ of the 21st century. It empowers individuals to gain the knowledge and confidence to bring private concerns towards inter-personal solutions. At a time of widespread public anxiety about internet ethics, online behaviour and cybersafety, this conference aims to open the conversation to the positive role technology plays and can play in supporting our well-being.’
As with last year, what struck me most was the energy in the room throughout the day. The people who are working in the field are absolutely passionate about what they do, and that’s so encouraging to see. Slowly, slowly, things are starting to change. Conversations about mental health are coming out into the open. As Gerry Raleigh (Director of the National Office for Suicide Prevention) said, ‘we need to ask – ‘are you ok’? As a community, we need to look after each other.’
But more than that, as I have discovered myself, technology is increasingly playing a big part in those conversations. It allows people to communicate in ways that haven’t been possible before. That does raise questions, particularly for young people, who were the focus of this conference. Where do we find reliable information? How safe are we online? How can parents both help and protect their kids when it comes to online resources?
A big part of yesterday was the launch of ReachOutParents.com by Minister Kathleen Lynch, which provides answers to a lot of these questions. She also talked about the need to change the language we use to talk about mental health which has has long been a bug bear of mine, and look at mental fitness, not illness. For me, it was extremely gratifying to see that someone in a position to keep mental health on the agenda is so driven to keep the momentum going in breaking down the stigma around talking about mental health.
My own contribution was simply about what I have been able to do to help myself with technology that’s freely available to anyone, namely blogger, facebook and twitter, and I challenged the concept that we’re too addicted to our devices, that life is simply passing us by, as was suggested by a video that went viral earier this year. Yes, for sure there are times when we need to disconnect from the internet, but equally there are times when virtual contact is the only contact we are able for. Balance and perspective is everything!
The words that are staying with me most from yesterday are one simple sentence from Kathleen Lynch – ‘Together, we are unstoppable’. I like that. We have a long, long way to go, but the momentum is there, and it’s gathering pace. So we’ll just keep going.