Please join the Virtual Ability community in Second Life for the ninth annual Mental Health Symposium. It will be held on multiple days during May, 2020.  There is no charge to attend.

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 current schedule.  Check back here frequently for updates!

Mental Health Un-Conference 2020 Schedule of Events

All times are in SLT/PDT
Date and TimeLocationTitle of EventEvent DescriptionFacilitatorBiographyEvent Transcript
May 5, 7:00 am
May 7, 7:00 am
May 10, 7:00 am
Healthinfo IslandIntroduction to the Mental Health Un-ConferenceThis is an introduction to Virtual Ability’s 2020 Mental Health Un-Conference that will be held throughout the month of May. A guided tour of the mental health displays and exhibits on Healthinfo Island will include information on how these interactive poster sets are made to be accessible.Gentle HeronGentle Heron likes to share evidence-based health and wellness information. Her RL avatar is president of Virtual Ability, Inc.
First session Transcript

Second session Transcript

Third session Transcript
May 7, 9:00 amEthnographiaIdentity, Mental Illness, and Disability: How Second Life Has HelpedThis exhibit is a sort of "build biography" — a story of discovery of a new self as a result of being in a virtual world, after having become disabled due to mental illness. The build is set up like an immersive gallery exhibit that you can walk through and interact with. It includes signs with pictures and captions, as well as objects and demonstrations that show some of the things that the story is talking about. I will give a brief introduction, and then be available for questions while participants tour the exhibit at their own pace for the remainder of the session.

The exhibit is designed to be accessible primarily with notecards that participants can get by clicking any of the signs, and also with semi-transparent ramps overlying all stairs, clear labeling of objects, a pleasant soundscape, and other accessibility features.
Jadin EmeraldJadin Emerald is otherwise known in SL by a host of other avatar names, including Jadyn Firehawk, who is now retired from public life to pursue her favorite hobbies and practice self-care. Today, Jadin is primarily a creator in SL with a focus on wellness, and owner of Jadin Emerald Design Studio. She also operates the Coronavirus Survival Store, a store that is all freebies and is designed to help people through the pandemic crisis. She has developed a layperson's expertise on bipolar disorder and PTSD from having lived with their effects for most of her life. She is a former faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, where she taught environmental science. She holds a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers UniversityTranscript
May 12, 9:00 amYellow Hibiscus Cabana, Virtual Ability IslandArt & Mental HealthMarylou Goldrosen will share images of paintings related to mental health from various times in history. We will learn a bit of history about the artists and their time period.Marylou GoldrosenIn RL, Marylou Goldrosen is Dr. Mary Stokrocki. She is a Distinguished Professor at Arizona State University. She teaches at NonProfit Commons in Second Life at her Art Ark.Transcript
May 13, 10:00 amCape Serenity Library patioMental Health in PoetryShyla will read poetry by poets with mental illness or on the topic of mental illness or mental health.Shyla the Super GeckoShyla began writing poetry at a young age, including lyrical expression. She has been the featured reader at poetic venues within Second Life including Sunday Spoken Word and Circe's. Her work has been published in Second Life's REZ Magazine and in the physical world's The Fib Review.

Shyla has an installation of her work on Ethnographia Island in Second Life.
May 14, 2:00 pmSojourner Auditorium, Virtual AbilityStrange Days Indeed!As with most everything else, the world-wide health crisis is having an impact on alcoholism and other drug addictions. Helping professionals are required to find new ways to reach people in need and deliver services. People are sheltering at home, but liquor stores are still considered “essential businesses” in many places, and sales of alcohol have increased dramatically. Mental health problems are accelerating and many will turn to drugs for relief. The economic impact on non-profit and for-profit treatment programs alike is profound, with experts predicting that 30 – 50% of the traditional treatment providers may not survive the next six months. The potentially large increase in the number of people showing signs of addiction as the crisis progresses, along with the likely reduction in resources available is setting up a crisis of dramatic proportion. What will the future bring?Coughran Mayo (RL- Dick Dillon)Dick Dillon is the man behind the avatar Coughran Mayo. Mr. Dillon has over 30 years experience in organization management, working with both for profit and nonprofit behavioral health organizations. He is the founder of the Cox CARE Center, and co-creator of the Web of Addictions site (one of the first websites to provide accurate information about addiction). As an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare, he created Avatar Assisted Therapy, in which therapeutic interventions are delivered in a virtual environment. He is now CEO of Innovaision LLC, a consulting firm for nonprofits wishing to work in virtual worlds. Transcript
May 15, 6:00 amSojourner Auditorium, Virtual AbilityMental Illness in LiteratureDraxtor and Gentle, both avid readers, will discuss how mental illness has been portrayed in literature of all varieties. An amazing number of works of literature throughout history deal with various aspects of mental illness. A book list of recommended readings will be provided.Gentle Heron and Draxtor DespresDraxtor Despres (Bernard Drax in the physical world) is a German filmmaker, composer, and host of the Second Life Book Club. His recent feature film “Our Digital Selves” documents embodiment and place-making for people with disabilities in virtual worlds. He has been documenting SL via short reportages as the Drax Files since early 2007, and is now a contractor for Linden Lab.

Gentle Heron (Alice Krueger in the physical world) is President of Virtual Ability, Inc., which is the nonprofit that supports the Virtual Ability community in virtual worlds. She is a former educator and education researcher, sidelined by multiple sclerosis.
May 18, 11:00 amYellow Hibiscus Cabana, Virtual AbilityCoping with our avatars, and the people behind themA growing body of research has shown that technology users have varied social relationships with their avatars. These relationships range from asocial "Object" orientations in which avatars are nothing more than pixels, to "Me" orientations in which avatars are a true representation of ourselves in a digital world, to "Other" orientations in which avatars represent a companion in the virtual space. Research even shows "Symbiote" orientations in which users blend pieces of themselves with pieces of their avatar as a way to work through uncertainty. These relations are already dynamic and complex during somewhat routine online engagement. In the face of COVID-19 in which many around the world are becoming increasingly exposed to and reliant on online interactions, we might wonder if and how we are shifting our relationships with our avatars as a way to cope with the sudden influx of so many social others online. Following a brief presentation on user-avatar relationships, Dr. Nick Bowman will lead an open dialogue focused on how the relationships we form with our avatars might be affected by the relationships we form and foster with other users.Dr. Nick Bowman Dr. Nick Bowman (PhD, Michigan State University) is an Associate Professor in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University, where he researches the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social demands of interactive media such as video games and virtual reality. He has published over 80 manuscripts in academic journals and is a regular speaker on issues of media psychology and mass communication research. He is the incoming editor of Journal of Media Psychology and just recently completed a J. William Fulbright research and teaching fellowship at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.Transcript
May 20, 1:00 pmYellow Hibiscus Cabana, Virtual AbilityResearch in Online Communities: An interactive workshop on privacy and human subjects research considerationsBelonging to an online community can be good for your health, especially if you have a disability, but do you know the implications for your privacy? What are your thoughts and opinions about health research being conducted within online communities? How can we balance protecting health information that people share with the realities of public spaces that are accessible with only a few clicks? Join Dr. Michelle Colder Carras, a health researcher specializing in video games, online communities, and health research for a frank discussion. Questions to think about in advance are posted here. You can write out your thoughts to share during the discussion. Notes from the discussion will be used to inform designs and ethical protocols for research in online communities. Please download these questions for audience use during the event.Dr. Michelle Colder CarrasDr. Michelle Colder Carras is a public mental health scientist and informaticist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who specializes in normative and problematic media and technology use. Her most recent work has focused on how commercial video games and gaming communities can be useful for mental health and suicide prevention. She is a gamer, a mother, a hiker, and a person with bipolar disorder. You can find more information on her website,
May 21, 1:00 pmFearless Nation PTSD SupportVirtual Worlds, Real Healing for PTSDA review of how PTSD symptoms can be negotiated, re-framed, and resolved through virtual world activities, creating resilience in people with post-trauma. Slide show, visual presentation in voice and chat.Anya IborAnya Ibor, Colleen M. Crary, M.A. in RL, is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology currently editing her research for publication. A BA in Graphic Design from San Diego State University and Masters in Forensic Psychology from the Chicago school, Colleen has been focused on the efficacy of virtual reality for PTSD care for over 10 years. A PTSD subject matter expert and group facilitator in SL and RL, she works as a consultant in XR (VR, UI, AR) and Cyberpsychology.
May 24, 10:00 amMindful Cove Amphitheater“Mental Health in Second Life: Then and Now” and Mindful Cove Open HouseMindful Cove is a new Second Life Community Gateway with a focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing. We offer a vast amount of related resources, developed and curated by real life mental health clinicians. And because we know that play is good for our brains, there are dozens of fun activities, from horseback riding, golf, fishing, dancing, and much more. Ready to relax? We have three levels of meditation, yoga, exercise, and self-study areas... even a Rainbow Bridge to honor lost pets. Avalon BirkeAvalon Birke is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in real life, holds two Masters degrees, and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Studies. She has spent the last 13 years working on a wide variety of mental health-related projects in Second Life.
May 25, 10:00 amCape Serenity Library patio"The Yellow Wallpaper": Read aloud
"The Yellow Wallpaper" is a short story originally published in 1892. It is considered an important early feminist work. The story tells about a woman (who would now have a diagnosis of postpartum depression) who is treated as was typical in the 19th century for "female hysteria."John Laughing
John Laughing is enjoying his time in Second Life. He attends classes and events, and is learning to build and script.
May 31 - June 8Blue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability islandMental Health Mini Film FestivalWe will view each film together, commenting throughout in text chat. Then we will discuss when we are all done viewing. Each film is Closed Captioned.
May 31, 7:00 amBlue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island“Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated”Demi Lovato is a singer, actress, and TV personality. She acted as a child on Barney and Friends, then in some Disney movies. Now she has released several popular studio albums. This film is a personal look at the star's life including her experience with an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, and addiction.
June 1, 2:00 pmBlue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island“Bedlam: The history of Bethlem Hospital”This film documents the infamous psychiatric facility through archaeology and the research of psychiatric historians. Skeletons in a graveyard under the streets of London and antique texts help us understand the cruel and inhumane treatments of persons who may (or may not) have been mentally ill that were common from the 1600s up into modern times.
June 4, 12:00 noonBlue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island“Overpill”This documentary highlights the effects of Big Pharma and its interests in treating (but not curing) mental illness. The pharmaceutical industry has capitalized on the public's awareness of mental illnesses to sell medications with known severe side effects and the danger of addiction.
June 8, 11:30 amBlue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island“A Brilliant Madness: John Nash”John Nash was a young and brilliant mathematician whose theoretical discoveries have applications in many fields. This documentary follows the life of Nash, the exceptional mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994 for his work despite having severe mental illness. You may recall part of his story from the movie “A Beautiful Mind.”