Virtual Ability Presents
7th Annual
Mental Health Symposium 2018
“I Am Not My Illness: Identity and Mental Health”
Saturday, April 21, 2018
Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island
In Second Life

The Symposium took place in Virtual Ability’s Sojourner Auditorium, on Virtual Ability island. The SLURL for the auditorium is: If you create a free Second Life account through Virtual Ability’s portal ( you will enter at the beginning of our New Resident Orientation Course. You can then post the auditorium’s SLURL into Nearby Chat, click the green underlined link, and teleport to the auditorium.

The Virtual Ability community in Second Life invited everyone to join us for our seventh annual Mental Health Symposium. It was held on Saturday, April 21, 2018 beginning at 6 am Pacific (9 am Eastern), and continued through 6 pm Pacific (9 pm Eastern). There was no charge to attend.

The theme of this Symposium was “I Am Not My Illness: Identity and Mental Health.” Our international group of presenters offered a wide interpretation of the theme, based on their interests and academic backgrounds. Attendees learned about the impact of mental illness on people who are homeless, who have been incarcerated, or who are suffering ethnic and racial harassment, about spirit possession, whether social media causes mental illness, and about how to combat stigma related to mental illness.

The Symposium took place in Virtual Ability’s Sojourner Auditorium, on Virtual Ability island. The SLURL for the auditorium is: Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island.

The Virtual Ability community hosts this annual Symposium to share information about mental health and mental disabilities with the general population. Within our cross-disability community we have members who deal with a variety of mental health issues. Not only is this an opportunity for our community members to learn more about topics related to mental health from experts they probably would not have a chance to meet otherwise, it allows the general public to attend a professional conference at no cost.

Below is the full schedule for the conference.


Mental Health Symposium 2018 Schedule of Events

All times are in SLT/PST
Start TimePresenter NameInstitution/ CountryTitle of TalkTranscript of TalkVideo of Talk
6amDivya PadmanabhanDept. of Social Work and Social, Administration, University of Hong Kong, HKDancing Crazy? Unpacking the category of possession-form dissociative identity disorder
Presenter Biography:
I am a teaching assistant at the Dept. of Social Work and Social Administration, University of Hong Kong. I am closely involved in the designing, tutoring and assessment of two courses on disability. This presentation is based on my PhD thesis, which was an ethnography of possession in a temple in south India. My research interests include medical anthropology, cross cultural psychiatry and sociology of religion. I am extremely interested in exploring alternative conceptualisations of mental illness, particularly from non-western perspectives.
Summary of Talk:
The presentation titled “Dancing Crazy? Unpacking the category of possession-form dissociative identity disorder” would engage with the fundamental question of what is considered as mental illness and by whom. Taking the case of spirit possession, it highlights that a condition of possession could be perceived as a mental disorder by psychiatry whereas it may be perceived as a sign of distress and not necessarily a disorder by many others. This then raises questions of which understanding is considered more valid, what are the basis on which these narratives are built and what are the practical implications specifically for those who do not consider it as a mental illness. In the past few decades, considerable literature has shown the power of psychiatric labels and diagnosis in deciding which treatments should be encouraged, what kind of services need to be stepped up and what sort of therapies should be discouraged. Thus these debates not only have significance in academia but also have a direct bearing on people’s lives in the long run. Against this background, this paper will consider alternative conceptualisations of possession and unearth the various reasons for which it is not understood as a psychiatric condition. The rationale behind this exploration is to highlight that merely indicating the limitations of a universal psychiatric approach is insufficient. It is essential that alternative narratives are also brought on the same page for any possible dialogue to occur on equal terms.
7amPanelMental Illness in Poetry
Summary of Talk:
The audience will be invited to discuss the way the authors share their identity as a person with a mental illness in each poem.
Mental Illness in Poetry
University of Reading, UKPeople with depression use language differentlyMohammed Al-Mosaiwi TranscriptMohammed Al-Mosaiwi Video
Presenter Biography:
Mr. Al-Mosaiwi is a qualified pharmacist – and originally had plans to do a PhD in medicinal chemistry. However, he became more and more interested in psychology, so he undertook a Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience at The University of York and then a PhD in Psychology at The University of Reading.

His research is focused on the maladaptive impact of absolutist thinking, especially with respect to psychological wellbeing, and more specifically, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. His studies attempt to identify the mechanisms by which absolutist thoughts produce detrimental consequences. He has also empirically examined and compared various ways of measuring absolutist thinking.
Summary of Talk:
I will present findings from a paper recently published in Clinical Psychological Science. We examined the natural language of over 6,400 members in 63 different internet forums.

We predicted and found that anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation forums contained significantly more absolutist words (e.g., always, nothing, completely) than 19 different control forums (e.g. cancer forum, parenting forums, student forum, etc.). Suicidal ideation forums also contained significantly more absolutist words than anxiety and depression forums. First person singular pronouns (e.g., me, myself and I) and negative emotion words (e.g., miserable, lonely, sad) have previously been shown to be strong language markers for depression. We found that absolutist words produced larger differences between control and depression forums than pronouns and were better markers of depression than negative emotion words.

Finally, our research also included recovery forums, where members who feel they have recovered from a depressive episode write positive and encouraging posts about their recovery. Here we found that even though they had no symptoms of depression, and were writing positively, they continued to use significantly more absolutist words than any of the 19 control forums.
9:30amPhilip YanosCity University of New York, USHow do people diagnosed with mental illness become written off? How can they overcome it?Philip Yanos TranscriptPhilip Yanos Video
Presenter Biography:
Dr. Yanos is a professor of psychology at John Jay College, City University of New York, and the author of Written Off: Mental Health Stigma and Loss of Human Potential (Cambridge University Press, 2018). A clinical psychologist, he is currently the interim Director of Clinical Training for the clinical psychology Ph.D. program at John Jay College. He is the author of over 90 articles and book chapters and has been the lead investigator on several federally-funded research grants. He is an internationally recognized expert on mental health stigma and its effects on identity, is an associate editor of the journal Stigma and Health, and is the co-developer of “Narrative Enhancement and Cognitive Therapy,” a treatment approach developed to combat the effects of self-stigma on people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses that has been translated into 6 languages. In his new book, he aims to make the importance of mental health stigma understandable and accessible to a general interest audience. In early reviews by professionals and advocates, it has been praised as “extraordinary” (Dr. Lisa Dixon) and “captivating and well-researched” (Kurt Sass, City Voices).
Summary of Talk:
This presentation will review what we know about stigma toward people diagnosed with mental illnesses. It will review what we know about how common stigma is, how it impacts the self-images of people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses, and ways that people with mental illness can overcome the effects of stigma.
10:45amMeg PetersUniversity of Ottawa, CanadaChallenging the Conception that Social Media Causes Bad Mental HealthMeg Peters Video
Presenter Biography:
Meg Peters is a second-year doctoral student in the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa. After completing a Master of Arts in English Literature and Women’s Studies, she has since turned away from published English literature, and is now examining narratives as they unfold online. Her doctoral project looks to narratives about mental health in social media spaces, using an intersectional feminist methodology that includes theory from feminist media studies, critical disability studies, queer theory, mad studies, and critical race theory.
Summary of Talk:
There has been a recent influx of scholarly interest in how sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and racism are emphasized in online spaces, making social media in particular “bad for our mental health”. The recent proliferation of scholarship examining the correlation between social media use and bad mental health has led to a similar increase in pop culture periodicals that use this scholarship as their basis. The result is a moral panic around social media use, especially for young women, for queer people, and for people of colour; in other words, mental illness is seen as correlated to the use of social media because of harassment, and “cyberbullying” online. Although “mental illness” is implicitly and explicitly referenced in the studies correlating social media use and bad mental health, I argue that it is bad affect, rather than madness, that is at issue here. By highlighting the correlation between social media use and bad affect online for specific groups of people, these pop culture periodicals are implying that marginalized groups are not welcome on social media spaces. Using Danah Boyd’s definition of social media platforms as “networked publics,” I differentiate between the social media interface and the social media communities formed within the interface. Rather than examining ways to change the interface to make it more welcoming to those who are not rich, white, and normatively bodied, these studies equate interface with community, thus warning marginalized people to refrain from using these platforms. While the affective registers of the large companies that run social media platforms may indeed be negative for those unable to adhere to neoliberal conceptions of success – as can be shown by the Facebook timeline function – marginalized communities have also been empowered by these spaces, demanding real changes to the interface.
NoonDRUM performance
1:15pmAlita NandiUniversity of Essex, UKEthnic and racial harassment and mental health: Identifying sources of resilienceAlita Nandi Transcript and
Project Report
Presenter Biography:
Dr. Alita Nandi is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), University of Essex. She conducts empirical research primarily in the areas of ethnicity and gender specifically investigating differences in subjective and economic well-being. She is interested in the formation and measurement of identity and discrimination/harassment and their role in determining life outcomes. She co-leads capacity building activities and the Ethnicity strand of Understanding Society, UK’s largest household panel survey. She has co-authored a book, “A Practical Guide to Using Panel Data.”
Summary of Talk:
Around one in ten ethnic minorities living in England report experiencing ethnic and racial harassment in the past year. We find that those who report such experiences report substantially worse mental health than those who do not. This difference is 1.3 times the difference between employed and unemployed persons. Our results are based on models of mental health we estimate using survey responses from a UK longitudinal panel survey, Understanding Society, over the period 2009-14. These models control for a large array of individual and area level characteristics including the Big Five personality traits. We also examined a number of factors to see if any of these protected individuals against the mental health cost of such experiences. We found that some factors were more effective for the first generation (non-UK born ethnic minorities) while some others were effective for the second generation (UK born ethnic minorities). We found that the proportion co-ethnic in the local area and number of close friends were a source of resilience for the first generation while ethnic identity and proportion of co-ethnic friends were a source of resilience for UK born minorities.
2:30pmJoe DeLuca John Jay College of Criminal Justice, USForensic Psychiatric Experiences, Stigma, and Self-ConceptJoseph DeLuca TranscriptJoe DeLuca Video
Presenter Biography:
Joe DeLuca, M.A., is a 4th year PhD student in Clinical Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice & the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, working under the mentorship of Dr. Philip Yanos. He received his BA/MA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College. Joe is currently completing his studies in clinical psychology and hopes to continue to work with youth and young adults in the future. He currently is a clinical extern at a hospital-based clinic for youth, teaches undergraduate courses in psychology, and conducts research on mental health, recovery, and stigma (as part of the Mental Health Recovery Research Lab).

In regard to research, Joe is interested in recovery and community integration among individuals living with severe mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia), as well as how public attitudes and stigma affects various marginalized groups in society (e.g., individuals who have contact with the legal/forensic system). Joe is also interested in public mental health awareness programs, de-stigmatization efforts, and advocacy initiatives. Joe recently partnered with a national mental health non-profit organization in the United States to help develop and test the effectiveness of their mental health stigma reduction program for youth.
Summary of Talk:
Research has increasingly explored mental illness self-stigma (i.e., when people diagnosed with mental illness believe that society’s negative beliefs are true of them). This research has demonstrated that self-stigma predicts poorer functional and treatment outcomes for individuals diagnosed with mental illness. Stigma research has typically investigated the impact of a single stigma on people, without considering the potential effects of multiple stigmatizing labels. People who are diagnosed with mental illness, have a history of criminal conviction, and identify with a racial-ethnic minority group, however, may experience multiple stigmas. This presentation will discuss stigma and self-concept theory, and report on data showing that multiple stigmatized labels can combine and magnify negative outcomes.
3:45pmIsabelle MartinUniversity of Kentucky, USVisions of Infinity: Singularity, Proliferation, and Transcendence in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror RoomsIsabelle Martin TranscriptIsabelle Martin Video
Presenter Biography:
Isabelle Martin is currently finishing her senior year at the University of Kentucky, majoring in Art History & Visual Studies. Her research primarily concerns issues of racial and cultural identity in contemporary art, with special emphasis on the politics of representation and visibility. In the fall she will attend graduate school with the hopes of eventually pursuing a PhD in Art History.
Summary of Talk:
Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama has developed her career through the continued use of the infinitely repeated polka-dot motif, an element that has not only persisted throughout the entirety of her work (both two- and three-dimensional) but has also become a fundamental aspect of her self-presentation. Kusama has long suffered from a mental affliction called cenesthopathy, which results in intense hallucinations and anxiety attacks. Her use of the polka dot is not only a way for her to visualize her hallucinations, but also an example of the physical commitment (identified by Kusama as self-obliteration) she has to her work – her repeated application of small motifs onto expansive surfaces is at once both therapeutic and manic.

This presentation will examine Kusama’s use of the minute in the context of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s theory of the minor artist, which asserts the power of minority positions and can be applied not only to Kusama’s use of infinitesimal motifs, but also to her identity as a Japanese female artist in a discipline populated predominantly by white Western males. This presentation will analyze the differences between the masculinist American work of Kusama’s contemporary, Donald Judd, and the potential impact of Japanese social expectations on Kusama’s style of expression. In comparing Kusama’s creation of physical spaces, such as her Infinity Mirror Rooms, and Judd’s work, I will argue that Kusama’s constant reinforcement of the minute throughout her career serves, in both cultural and feminist contexts, as a force of resistance and a form of empowerment.
5pmCarolyn WeiszUniversity of Puget Sound, USStigmatized Identities, Psychological Distress, and Physical Health among Individuals Experiencing HomelessnessCarolyn Weisz TranscriptCarolyn Weisz Video
Presenter Biography:
Carolyn Weisz is Professor of Psychology at the University of Puget Sound where she teaches courses on social psychology, research methods and statistics, and topics including social perception and prejudice. Carolyn also serves on the advisory committee for the University’s African American Studies Program and on the Leadership Team of the Race & Pedagogy Institute.
Her research interests include prejudice, racism, stigma, homelessness, health, friendship, and other topics related to social psychology. Most recently, she has worked with interdisciplinary and community-based teams exploring the intersections of racism and homelessness.
In the community, Weisz is a Senior Fellow of the Tacoma-Pierce County American Leadership Forum, serves on the board for the Fair Housing Center of Washington, and volunteers with the Diversion Program at the Pierce County Juvenile Court. Before moving to the Northwest, Carolyn received her BA from Stanford University and MA and PhD from Princeton University, and was a NIDA postdoctoral fellow at UC San Francisco conducting drug treatment research.
Carolyn is raising two teenage daughters and has been part of a book group for over 20 years.
Summary of Talk:
Homeless people are one of the most stigmatized groups in the United States, yet very little research has examined the effects of stigma on the outcomes of people without homes. Many individuals experiencing homelessness have multiple stigmatized identities, such as those linked to mental illness, addiction, criminal history, unemployment, or race.
In this presentation, Professor Weisz will share findings from her own research on how concerns about social stigma and discrimination, whether anticipated or experienced, may create distress for individuals without homes, affect physical health, and play a role in sustaining homelessness. Topics include the pathways through which stigma effects health, and the complex relationship between systemic racism and homelessness in the United States.
Professor Weisz is looking forward to conversation with the Second Life Community, and brainstorming together about how to reduce stigma and its negative effects.