This past weekend, a group of over 100 online health advocates gathered in Chicago to attend the third annual HealtheVoices conference. I attended because of the work I do as a mental health activist. Psych Centralâ€™s founder, Dr. John Grohol, sat on the advisory panel, and hosted a panel discussion about privacy and dealing with trolls online.
The organizers describe the HealtheVoices Conference as:
â€œâ€¦ a first-of-its-kind, weekend-long conference that brings together online advocates from across various health conditions for an opportunity to learn, share and connect. Sponsored by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, the conference seeks to provide valuable content, such as tips to further engage and grow an audience; thought-provoking conversation; and networking opportunities for online health advocates.â€
First Hand Account of HealtheVoices 2017
This was Dr. Groholâ€™s third year and my first year attending the HealtheVoices conference. As a first time attendee, my first impression was simply: wow. The three-day event was jam-packed with learning and networking opportunities, with lots of breaks mixed in.
Our agenda included educational classes such as E2 (Empathy and Emotion): Navigating the Advocacy Landscape While Maintaining Your Own Mental Well-Being, Storytelling in a Mobile World, and Media 101: Approaching and Building Relationships with the Media. They even offered Restorative Vinyasa Yoga early Saturday morning.
We also had group meals, where the organizers smartly moved our seats around to ensure we always sat with different people. This afforded us the opportunity to speak to everyone. I must admit, I didnâ€™t initially like the idea, but by the end, I was really impressed with how it encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and meet new people.
Hands down, my two favorite sessions were The Facebook Family of Apps & the Patient Journey and The 10 Fundamentals of YouTube: How to set a Creative Strategy. I learned a lot that will help me with mental health advocacy. I also realized that companies like Facebook and YouTube arenâ€™t able to respond to health advocates individually. But because we were all in one place and worked together, we were able to attract their attention — hopefully to the benefit of us all.
Dr. Grohol led a panel discussion on the last day of the conference that focused on privacy issues and dealing with trolls online that featured Anna Norton (@thesnowapewife) and Kamaria Laffrey (@mrs_kam).
Mental Health Advocacy Meets Physical Health Advocacy
As this was Dr. Groholâ€™s third time attending the conference, he noticed the upward trend of mental health advocates in attendance. I heard that in years one and two, only four or five mental health advocates were included. This year, that number had ballooned into 11 total in attendance.
Dr. Grohol said, â€œI was especially happy to see that we’ve been able to grow the voices of people who represent mental health concerns at this year’s conference, because their voices have historically often been squelched or minimized. To hear how so many people struggle with mental health issues, even when it’s not the primary area of their advocacy, is also an eye-opening reminder that these things affect all of us, everywhere. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate against anyone, for any reason. It’ll hit you just as readily if you’re dealing with a chronic health condition as much as it will if you’re not.â€
That mental health and physical health are linked was a great discussion that was had, both formally and informally throughout the weekend. One attendee told me that â€œjust because you have [a physical illness] doesnâ€™t mean you canâ€™t have a mental health problem as well — and vice versa.â€
Final Thoughts on HealtheVoices 2017
I believe that Dr. Grohol says it best when he said, â€œThere are some truly amazing people in advocacy doing important work every day, helping others gain the support and understanding we would all look forward to, if newly diagnosed. I also have to express my appreciation for the good folks at Janssen, who have the vision for this conference and have expanded it every year, while listening to attendees’ feedback to keep improving upon it each time.
“Putting all these smart, passionate people together in one room has made a significant difference and impact. It helps to re-energize me every year, and helps me find renewed passion for my own work, too.â€
Finally, he added, â€œThis was just an amazing year for patient advocates and activists who attended HealtheVoices 2017.â€
Janssen Pharmaceuticals reimbursed all attendees for their travel expenses for the conference, including room and board. All opinions expressed in the blog entry are the author’s own.