This week, BullyingEpidemic.com caught up with Katie Robinette, Executive Director of Healthy Minds Canada. Katie’s diverse experience in behind-the-scenes politics and campaigns, coupled with her interests in corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, and mental health, left her eager and well-prepared to step into the job at HMC, a Canadian charity that raises awareness about mental illness and addictions. HMC has supported 400 research projects at Canadian universities and teaching hospitals, and HMC’s best-selling handbook series, “When Something’s Wrong,” helps teachers, families, and employers identify and manage mental health and addictions issues.
We wanted to talk to Katie about HMC’s work, especially HMC’s growing focus on bullying prevention and empathy building. There’s a big connection between bullying prevention and mental health issues:
- Bullying can cause mental health problems for all 3 parties to bullying – bullies, targets, and bystanders
- Kids and adults with discernable mental health issues are often the targets of bullying
- We need to build more empathy for both bullying and mental health issues
Bullying Epidemic: Hi, Katie. Tell us about the connection between (1) Healthy Minds Canada, (2) kids and teens (or adults) with mental health issues and (3) bullying prevention. How does HMC get involved?
Katie Robinette: In 2009, HMC started hosting Youth Summits across Canada, run by and for youth. The Youth Summits are really unique to each community – the subject matter at each Summit reflects the specific concerns of the local community.
We know that bullying can cause anxiety, stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, and even, tragically, suicide. Youth know that too! One of the consistent big issues coming out of the Youth Summits was bullying. That’s why HMC started to address it directly.
I should note that there are many external and internal factors that contribute to mental illness and suicide. Healthy Minds Canada felt that we could help by raising awareness about some of the external contributing factors.
To that end, we’re building partnerships with leaders in bullying prevention so we can send the message to youth – and adults – that you don’t have to be a victim. There’s help out there and we’re working to help make those resources more readily available.
BE: Tell us about the mobile app online game HMC is developing to promote bullying prevention and empathy building. Is it for kids or adults? How does it work? When do you think it will be available?
Katie: We’re very excited about this project! We’re hoping to develop a series of apps/games; the first game is about bullying. We’re working with game developers Mojility to build an entire gaming ecosystem! It’s a huge undertaking, involving collaboration between us, our game developers, and a team of young adults. Everyone involved in the game creation has direct, personal experience with bullying or mental health issues. The focus is on the anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts (and actions) that can result from being bullied. With everyone’s personal connection, it’s a labor of love and understanding, not just a job! The game should be available around September 2014.
Excitingly, we’re hoping to make the rewards earned in the game redeemable in the real world, convertible into iTunes or Facebook dollars! The game’s for 9-16 year olds, but adults will find it helpful and fun too. We’re about to launch (or have launched, depending on when you read this) a crowdfunding campaign to support the game development. In fact, we’re creating a contest to name the game! A $20 donation to the crowdfunding campaign enters you into the game-naming competition.
While the game will be fun and challenging for players, from our perspective it’s not just a game. It’s designed to increase empathy for and awareness of the consequences of bullying, while providing a safe environment to practice coping and prevention strategies. Future games (or maybe levels of the same game) will cover every diagnosis in our “When Something’s Wrong: Ideas for Families” handbook.
BE: What’s the most fun or most rewarding aspect of your job?
Katie: I love this job! I run into work each day full of creative ideas and things to do! The best part, by far, is connecting with so many people who are working to make a difference! Parents, bosses, children, teens, employees, donors, psychiatrists, researchers, volunteers, social media pros, bloggers, even our auditors, IT team and accountant! We have a very small full-time team (just three of us), so I’m always reaching out to bring more people in.
This year, we played a big role in Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk Day (Let’s Talk Day is a 1-day event designed to break down the silence and the stigma around mental health. Bell Let’s Talk Day 2014 raised $5 Million through almost 110 million “noisy” texts, phone calls, Tweets, and FB shares). I‘m so proud of the work that Bell does to raise awareness about Mental Health (note: they’re not a donor!). We really wanted to let their audience know that Healthy Minds Canada is here all year ‘round as a valuable resource for those needing help or for those just curious to learn more.
BE: You organized a fantastic social media chain for that event. How did you put it together?
Katie: Our National Campaign Manager for Bell Let’s Talk Day, Jude Kahn, recruited a team of 10 regional leaders who all had a strong presence on Twitter regarding mental health and addictions. They each recruited up to 50 people to join their teams!
We developed joint Bell/Healthy Minds Canada logos and tweet-sheets (suggested tweets for the lead-up to the campaign and tweets for the day itself). We re-tweeted our team’s tweets to our national followers, then out to Bell’s even larger audience. We really wanted to provide a strong team presence, and we sure did! We gained 424 new Twitter followers and saw a 3,300% increase in our website visitors that day alone! Each team leader had a noticeable increase in their own Twitter followers, who will now see their mental health tweets throughout the year!
That’s a great way to use social media and a clear sign that by joining forces for good and speaking out (or rather “tweeting out”!), we can all make a huge difference!
BE: Great job! Thanks, Katie, for sharing your social media tips and for being such a strong advocate for transparency in mental health and bullying prevention. We’ll be watching for the HMC game – and the name!
To view a 30-sec video of the game, click here
To enter the contest, visit the Healthy Minds Canada website and click on the HMC game link