MISSION: To speak about mental illness as a vehicle to engage others to join in conversations about mental health.
I started Vocementium in response to my own mental illness, and how I have chosen to address my own struggles with it.
The problem of mental illness in our society continues seemingly unabated despite very visible efforts to confront it. Widespread campaigns on the airwaves or in social media tell us to “talk about it” and to “destigmatize” mental illness. But everyday we hush it up rather than actually talking about it. We implore and give permission to talk publicly, but rarely actually does a frank and open conversation start. Conversations that do occur are often very impersonal, very third-person. We talk about others with mental illness, maybe in hushed tones, remarking what a sad story it is. Always implied in such conversations is the unspoken thought: "Better them than me."
We say we want to remove stigma, but still so many hide it away - either their own mental illness or that of a loved one. The result of so many continuing to stay silent is twofold. Firstly it keeps the sufferer alone, isolated and silent. Second it only reinforces the stigma as people’s silence becomes further cause for shame. Shame causes more shame. Stigma begets stigma.
I started Vocementium as a space to create conversation. I am a speaker. I did not feel I had any authority to simply tell others to start talking about mental illness. I decided just to start talking. I’ve done so regardless of anyone listening or not. I’m only one voice, but I’ll be as loud and as public as I can find avenues to be loud and public. And if by being absolutely open and honest about it, by holding nothing back, perhaps it spurs more conversation, then I’ll have succeeded. I can’t tell people to talk about mental illness, but by talking I hope to get them talking about it nonetheless.
But that has been done before. People more and more are talking about mental illness, which is undeniably a good thing. It is not enough. As long as we only speak about mental illness, we only speak of it in terms that others still will see as different; there will still be some stigma attached to it.
Therefore my approach to speaking for the sake of the mentally ill is to re-frame the conversations as one of mental health. If we can speak of our mental health while we are in health, then when that health takes a turn, we will be able to address it on terms to which everyone can relate. To talk about mental illness in a way that doesn't discriminate, separate, or ostracize, we must first talk about mental health as an everyday concept.
My work starts through stories, namely stories about my own journeys through mental illness. My stories are my most powerful conversation starters. I also employ didactic speaking, as in the form of a Medical Grand Rounds, for example. As a retired surgeon with years of clinical practice, I can tailor talks and stories to the medical field, stories that are relatable to medical students, residents, and attending physicians alike. These stories focus on both burnout and mental illness in the professional setting. But my speaking translates very easily through story-telling to bring a powerful message to any audience. I am comfortable in all styles of venue or forum. I can speak one-on-one and will also help mediate small group sessions. I enjoy large auditoriums or small intimate rooms.
The point is to start talking. It doesn’t even matter what gets spoken, just as long as it gets expressed. Please join me because a conversation takes at least two parties.