Mental Health in Digital

A few weeks ago I gave a talk on Mental Health in Digital at Sunderland Digital entitled “Dealing with Depression”. The talk was about some of my personal experiences with Mental Health, how digital has helped and hindered in recovery and how important I believe it is that awareness and support is increased in the workplace. I don’t intend to go into details about the talk in this post — I may do so in a future post — but having seen the impact of the event, I thought I’d share some background, and some developments since then.

Sunderland Digital is a meetup held monthly at Sunderland Software Centre and managed by Nathan Lawson, Cameron Shaw and Kevin Gibson. I’ve been amazed to see how the event has grown in a relatively short period and proud that three of our staff have helped pull together a community of digital practitioners of over 200 people.

It was contact from Gavin Elliot that inspired the topic of Mental Health. Gavin has been delivering his exceptional and emotional talk on Imposter Syndrome in events across the country and he reached out to organisers to see if he could do the talk at Sunderland Digital. When I saw how the team embraced the idea I was inspired to talk about my own — this set the lineup for the event.

I’ve seen a very encouraging pattern over the last few years of people in the tech sector bringing the issue to the fore, especially in my work with Drupal software. The Drupal community is one of software developers, business owners, event organisers and many more crossing the whole range of roles involved in the web and digital. Over the last few years there have been an increase in talks at Drupal events that cover the topic including adding a “Being Human” track to the main DrupalCon events, a Community Keynote by Mike Bell, the excellent Imposter Monologues and more recently covering ADHD (to name just a few). Having suffered from severe Depression and Agoraphobia in my early 20’s, and dealt with it for the rest of my life, I’d always wanted to talk about my experiences.

When the Sunderland Digital talks were announced, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect but the response was resounding — and by the time the event arrived there were over 70 people registered — almost double the average attendance the event had experienced so far. For me, this was a clear indicator of two things:

  1. Mental Health is something that affects so many people that its almost criminal how little its discussed.
  2. There is a real appetite for spaces where people feel safe to talk, and listen to people’s experiences in the digital sector.

After the event I was energised by the response across the internet and in person and it was absolutely clear that people were agreed:

The Digital sector needs to do a lot more work to address Mental Health issues in the workplace.

I followed up the event by arranging some meetings with various people in and out of the sector doing different work around Mental Health, and started to explore what could be done to address this need. There are so many people working in this area, some important events, programmes and ideas, but I felt that there was no way to easily discover them all and understand what is being done to address Mental Health in the North East Digital sector.

After some meetings with long-time collaborators Digital Union and Campus North, we are now putting plans together to setup an event in Q1 2018, bringing together people in the region. The aim is to discuss how we can work together to really make change - ensuring that Mental Health awareness, support and prevention is in every digital workplace in the region.

We will be releasing more practical information about this in the near future and I expect to write a number of blogs on the topic to set the scene. If you are interested and want to get involved, please contact me or leave a comment. Hopefully by bringing people together we can amplify our messages and impact, through synergy and collaboration.

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