Unfiltered Talks: mental health out in the open

Meaningful connections in a digital age

Unfiltered Talks is a series of events founded by Amazing Minds, WeAreASSIF and 0161Marketing ‘in an attempt to Empower, Inspire and Improve direct and indirect sufferers of mental health issues‘.

The Unfiltered Talks banner declares ‘Empower, Inspire, Improve’, and the line up of panellists delivers on this message, but gave so much more.

This event has a distinctive flavour – an openness and honesty that many speaking line ups don’t often allow space for.

Beth Wilshaw from mental health startup WeAreASSIF artfully mixed direct questions from audience members with those submitted through online platform slido.com (this also allows anonymous questions).

The speakers

Each guest took a few minutes to tell their story, each speaking honestly about their lived experiences of mental distress, as well relating this to the suffering of friends and family and wider society.

Emilia Kolbjørnsen – Manchester Girl

AKA @itsAmeliaKoko, Emilia who is a marketing specialist, spoke about her difficult and disjointed childhood growing up in different countries and struggling to find her place in the world.

From her teenage years depression and anxiety followed her around as she moved from one country to another.

Working hard and playing hard took their toll and Emilia took stock of her support network with a ‘friends cleanse’. She says:

Diet is so much more than what you’re eating. It’s what you’re seeing and experiencing, including the people around you.

It was at this point she connected with women’s friendship network Manchester Girl where she now volunteers as community manager.

While Emilia urges others to watch their ‘mental hygiene’ with social media, she’s also keen to point out the abundance of opportunities our online connections can bring in terms of friendship and community.

You can hear Emilia speaking to Bilal Jogi in the latest edition of the Amazing Minds podcast.

Bilal Jogi – Amazing Minds

Bilal (@iambilaljogi) talked with welcome openness about his history of panic attacks and anxiety. He’s researched a wide range of drug-free approaches to managing his condition, including vitamin and mineral supplements which he feels have helped him a lot.

It’s taken time for Bilal to find the things that help his anxiety and he’s put much time and effort into understanding the thought processes that underpin his panic attacks.

He warns others not to use online advice to self-diagnose by searching for answers online:

People want quick answers – it’s a huge problem because people google symptoms, but we’re vulnerable. Don’t do it. Be careful what you read and listen to.

Omar Latif

Omar is about to launch WeAreASSIF a new platform which empowers people to manage their own mental wellbeing by engaging with artificial intelligence (AI) tools and innovative approaches to content delivery.

I had heard Omar speak before about the loss of a very close friend to suicide. This time expanded on the impact of this experience, readily expressing the negative effect these events had had on his mental health.

WeAreASSIF is at a very exciting point as the app prepares for launch later this year. Although social media is a vital part of product promotion, Omar worries about the effect it’s having on our minds:

It’s scary how the need for [social media] validation changes us. It can be a ‘bad garden path’ to poor mental health. These apps are keeping people hooked – delete and unfollow!

A very healthy evening

Unfiltered Talks had a very different feel to many evening speaking events. By keeping speaker introductions brief there was lots of time and space for questions and chat.

The size and intimacy of the venue were just right and comments from the audience were welcomed and responded to, the atmosphere was more friendly debate than straight content delivery from the speakers.

I certainly came away feeling uplifted and I’m very much looking forward to the next Unfiltered Talks event.

Photographs courtesy of Unfiltered Talks / Amazing Minds.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

I’ve not written a proper blog on here for a while but I’ve been involved with some pretty cool stuff during Mental Health Awareness Week, so I’m jotting down a few notes here.

Monday: Tech Manchester Wellness Festival

This was my first visit to UK Fast Campus for this event focusing on managing the stresses of leadership in the tech industry.

As well as talks on everything from resilience to personality profiling there were yoga and meditation sessions on offer.

The great selection of healthy snacks and drinks was very welcome, especially as many events neglect this aspect of attendee wellbeing.

Thank you Tech Manchester.

Wednesday: WP&P Podcast Recording

I’ve recently become part of an online community called WP&UP. It’s a charity which supports people who use WordPress for business, many of these people work independently without a broader professional support network.

As part of my Care Labels For Humans project research I’ve been looking at the features of a range of mental health and well-being apps and I was invited onto the WP&UP podcast Press Forward to talk about my findings.

I’ll post more when the podcast goes live.

Thursday: Access All Areas at the BBC

This event is the BBC’s contribution to Global Accessibility Awareness Day. When we think of accessibility, we tend to focus on differences in mobility and sensory experience.

Accessibility also has everything to do with mental health and meeting the needs of people who think, feel or communicate differently.

It was really positive day and I really enjoyed hearing how experts by experience are increasingly visible in the accessibility world. You can read, hear or watch event highlights on the BBC website.

Friday: Mental Health & Co-production

To round this busy week off, I went to a one day event at The Curve in Prestwich. This is the home of Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust including a number of research teams.

There has been a genuine drive by the trust to put patients at the heart of research and service design by including ‘service users’ in these processes in a way that allows their knowledge and lived experience to be used to improve services. This is part of what’s called ‘co-production’.

It was interesting to hear from a number of researchers and their collaborators. I was particularly touched by the work done Dr Sophie Walker and a number of service users, represented by one of the group, Anton.

Patients were involved at every stage of the research which focused on early intervention for young people experiencing psychosis. Working creatively, and using visual arts, it was possible to authentically express the wishes of the participants.

I also demo-ed the virtual reality (VR) gameChange prototype which helps people with psychosis to reduce their anxiety about interactions outside the home by providing a scenarios such as getting on a bus or visiting a cafe.

You can read more about this research on the Psychosis Research Unit website.