In 2014, after attempting suicide, I was released into the care of my parents. At that time, I didn’t have a formal diagnosis of my illness. I didn’t have a prescription for any medication. I didn’t have a family doctor. I had no appreciation for the delays involved in getting psychiatric or therapeutic help. It’s an understatement to say that my parents and I were incredibly unprepared for the turmoil that followed.

What we did have was an appointment to meet a counsellor. And in my parents home, an internet connection. Each was pivotal to my recovery.

The meeting with the counsellor went well. He raised the concept of mindfulness. He directed me to the Canadian Mental Health Association. He used the word depression. Mindfulness would turn out to be a blessing, my go to method of treatment. The CMHA and I have a relationship that continues to this day. The word he used would be researched by me to the nth degree.

I was determined to heal. In my parents home, I spent countless hours exploring the internet, educating myself. I learned about mindfulness and discovered books and videos that could help. I learned about depression, seeing myself in the symptomology of that illness. In fairness, I saw myself in the symptomologies of other mood disorders. Depression, though, was the word that had been used most often in the hospital. So that’s the word that I devoted my research to. I found more books and videos that could help. I learned about treatment methods and, when I understood, tried to implement what I could. Understanding was not a guarantee. I was plagued with irrational thinking and cognitive impairment. But the determination to heal remained. The effort continued.

To help, my mum took me to her family doctor. He agreed to take me on as a patient and I received medication.

This meant that two of the three legs of recovery were in place. Leg one, the medication, stabilized my mood. Leg two was my willingness to work on healing. In fact, I was more than merely willing. I was working on it. But the third leg, therapy was not in place. That came many weeks later. Until then, though, I was working alone. I remained, for all intents and purposes, isolated.

I mention all this to show you how things used to be, or at least how they were in my case. Today, though, things can be very different. You see, my Local Health Integration Network, my LHIN, now has an online mental health service, the Big White Wall. Today, patients can be referred to this service. Immediately.

The Big White Wall is anonymous. The Big White Wall is safe, monitored 24/7/365 both by trained personnel and specialized AI. The Big White Wall is educational. The Big White Wall is interactive. In the words of the site itself “Big White Wall is an online mental health and wellbeing service offering self-help programmes, creative outlets and a community that cares.”

And what a community it is, thousands strong exemplified not only in the peer support it encourages, but in the Wall. The Wall is an artistic expression of mental health. It’s comprised of Bricks designed by people like you and me. I took some time exploring it, and was moved by what I read and saw.

After you join, you complete questionnaires that assesses your depression and anxiety levels. To do this, the questionnaires rely on globally accepted standards, the PHQ 9 for depression and the GAD 7 for anxiety. The results allow the AI to serve you information suited to your circumstances. This information comes in the guise of structured lessons called Guided Support, or you can simply explore on your own through Useful Stuff. Each offers a wealth of information much of which is therapeutic. Moreover, the more you interact with the site, the more relevant the information being served up becomes.

Much of this interaction happens through the Talkabout function. The Talkabout is all about anonymous peer support. There’s that word again, anonymous. When you join you’re encouraged to create a username you use nowhere else on the web. This username is how the support staff, known as Wall Guides, will address you. It’s how your peers will know you. And it’s very liberating. You feel freer to open up since no-one knows who you are.

The Talkabout is not a real-time chat. You post your comment or question and your peers have the opportunity to respond. Initially, I just explored the posts to get a sense of what the community is all about. But I quickly came across some posts that spoke directly to me. I had to answer them, thereby creating a dialogue that was eye-opening and healthy. I could see, in a graphic way, that I wasn’t alone, that there were others just like me, equally lost and confused, seeking help. This is something that stagnant sites hint at but never fully provide.

Anonymity. Peer Support. Safety. Guided Lessons. Provided 24/7/365. Imagine how this could have helped me in 2014. Imagine how it can help you today.

About John Dickson

A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.

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