Virtual Ability Presents
the 10th Annual Mental Health Symposium
“Mental Health in Trying Times”
Friday, April 16, 2021
Sojourner Auditorium,
Virtual Ability Island
In Second Life

The 10th annual Mental Health Symposium will take place in Virtual Ability’s Sojourner Auditorium, on Virtual Ability island on Friday, April 16, 2021. There is no charge to attend.

The theme of this Symposium is “Mental Health in Trying Times.”  Our international group of presenters will offer a wide interpretation of the theme, based on their interests and academic backgrounds.

The Symposium will take place in the virtual world of Second Life, at the Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability island. The SLURL for the auditorium is: Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island.  (You can create a free Second Life account through Virtual Ability’s Sign-Up Portal, entering 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.)

Virtual Ability 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 2021 Schedule of Events

April 16, 2021. All times are in SLT/PST.
Start TimePresenter NameInstitutionTitle of Talk
7:00 amClara González SanguinoAnti-stigma chair University Complutense of Madrid - Group 5The impact of Covid-19 on our mental health: A longitudinal study from the beginning of the pandemic to the return to the new normality in Spain
Presenter Biography:
Clara González Sanguino has just obtained her PhD in psychology at the Complutense University of Madrid, where she is currently on a postdoctoral fellowship and part of the anti-stigma chair UCM-Group 5. Her research is mainly focused on the stigma associated with different mental health problems, and with the arrival of Covid-19 on the consequences of the pandemic for mental health.
Summary of Talk:
Spain has been one of the countries most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading the world on several occasions in the number of infected and dead people. The aim of this research was to know the consequences throughout the first wave of the pandemic on depressive symptomatology, anxiety and post-traumatic stress by means of a longitudinal study in the general population. Other measures such as loneliness, spiritual well-being, discrimination or social support were also evaluated. The results showed the impact on mental health over the months, with values appearing to improve with the return to the new normal. Loneliness, spiritual well-being, being female and younger age were the main predictors of the impact on our mental health.
8:30 amLaura Ritchie and Daniel P CervoneUniversity of Chichester Conservatoire, UK and University of Illinois at ChicagoProjects pursued and abandoned: Pandemic reactions of care & coping
Presenter Biography:
Laura Ritchie is Professor of Learning and Teaching at the University of Chichester, UK. Laura’s teaching is heavily influenced by her research into people’s self-efficacy beliefs and metacognitive processes as they learn and perform/carry out tasks. Her recent book Yes I Can: Learn to use the Power of Self-efficacy is a practical and personal book about self-efficacy, strategic thinking, and recognising possibility in order to adopt the yes of self-efficacy into daily life.

Daniel Cervone is Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research has addressed issues in social-cognitive analysis of personality and behavior including self-efficacy processes, self-regulation, and the influence of affective states on thinking about the self. In recent years his main effort has been to advance a model of the overall architecture of cognitive and affective personality systems: The Knowledge and Appraisal Personality Architecture or KAPA model, which, in research by Dan and others has shown how social-cognitive systems can account for a classic phenomenon in personality psychology, namely, the cross-situational consistency of psychological response.
Summary of Talk:
In early 2020 with the global spread of COVID-19, ‘lockdown’ imposed travel restrictions that affected many aspects of day to day living, including the pursuit of meaningful personal goals. This study investigated the impact of that initial period of lockdown on people’s views and self-beliefs about personal projects they were already working to complete when they were suddenly interrupted. Participants were invited to complete an online questionnaire collecting both qualitative and quantitative data about self-efficacy beliefs and free text responses describing their goals and projects, whether they believed they could still complete them, if and how they were pursuing them, and whether they still cared about the project. At the time, life had been ‘normal’ only a few weeks before and participants were able to compare how they felt both before and in these new lockdown conditions. There was a notable drop in self-efficacy levels; over two thirds of the 161 participants were either unsure or did not believe they could still carry out their goals. Over a quarter either abandoned or were uncertain they could pursue their goals, but despite this, people continued to care about their goals. The self-reported strategies for dealing with the new situation included aspects of emotional and problem-focused coping and involved active planning and engaging with metacognitive strategies. The implications and usefulness of creative engagement and strategies for coping with realigned goals beyond lockdown are discussed
10:00 amCatherine EttmanBoston University School of Public HealthMental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: A story of depression and growing inequity
Presenter Biography:
Catherine Ettman is Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Dean’s Office at Boston University School of Public Health. Catherine is pursuing a PhD in Health Services Research at Brown University School of Public Health. Catherine studied public policy at Princeton University. She has previously worked in campaign politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas. She is the co-editor of Urban Health (Oxford University Press, 2019). Her work explores the social and economic factors that shape population mental health.
Summary of Talk:
While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life for all people, the economic and mental health consequences of the moment have not been borne equally. This presentation will report the first findings published in the U.S. on depression severity experienced during the pandemic relative to before COVID-19, and emerging trends for increasing inequities. We will explore leading edge data on mental health, assets, and what we can learn from this moment to build back a better world post-pandemic.
11:30 amTom Boellstorff, Evan Conaway, Sandy WengerUniversity of California, IrvineVirtual Worlds, Mental Well-Being, and COVID
Presenter Biography:
Tom Boellstorff: I’m a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. My original research was about sexuality in Indonesia and includes the books The Gay Archipelago and A Coincidence of Desires. Since 2004 I have been studying the cultures of virtual worlds, and have written about this in my books Coming of Age in Second Life and Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method. I have also studied disability in virtual worlds. Two articles about that research are “The Ability of Place” and “The Opportunity to Contribute.” I’m excited to be working with Evan and Sandy on this project!

Evan Conaway: I’m a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine! My focus is on video game preservation, and in my dissertation I explore the motivations, values, and strategies of people who are working to bring old online virtual worlds back to life, closely examining the challenges and meanings that emerge as a result of the centrality of servers to these endeavors. I have also worked on projects related to mental wellness among youth online, LGBTQ gaming communities, and data localization laws. I’ve been an avid gamer since I was a kid, and I’m thrilled to be bringing my passion for games, virtual worlds, and specifically Animal Crossing to this project!

Sandy Wenger: I am a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. My research is about love and relationships among queer men in Malaysia. I examine how men navigate competing ideas about masculinity, sexuality, and male bodies in their relationships with one another. Before moving to the US, I spent several years working at a university college in Malaysia where I taught classes on food and culture, culture and media policies, and research methods in the social sciences. While I do play the occasional game (this may or may not primarily happen on my phone), participating in a project that focuses on virtual worlds is new and exciting for me.
Summary of Talk:
This talk is based on a research project supported by the National Science Foundation, involving four anthropologists (Tom Boellstorff, Evan Conaway, Chandra Middleton, and Sandy Wenger) and the filmmaker Bernhard Drax. With a primary data collection period of July 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, the research project took place entirely online, focusing on the virtual worlds Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) and Second Life. In this talk we will focus on ACNH, with some comparative insights from Second Life. We will discuss how residents of these virtual worlds have used them to respond to the challenges of the pandemic with regard to mental well-being, as well as ways in which the virtual worlds were experienced as less beneficial to mental well-being. At this early stage of our data analysis, we will set forth some preliminary conclusions and their broader implications, and look forward to audience questions and insights.
1:00 pmRyan SchultzUniversity of Manitoba, CanadaAcedia During the Coronavirus Pandemic: A 5th-Century Term for a 21st-Century Problem
Presenter Biography:
Ryan Schultz is a science and agriculture librarian at the University of Manitoba Libraries in Winnipeg, Canada, and for the last three and half years he has been writing a blog about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse (including coverage of steals, deals, and freebies in Second Life!) at From time to time he writes about other topics, such as the pandemic, and mental health issues (he is a mental health consumer and he writes from that perspective).
Summary of Talk:
Acedia, described as listlessness, distraction, and wanting to avoid the task at hand, was first identified by 5th century monk and theologian John Cassian. The spatial and social constrictions of 5th-century monastic life are also a rather apt and concise description of the governmental and societal responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing limits physical contact, and quarantines and lockdowns constrict physical space and movement. Working from home day after day, and rarely leaving that space, means a distinct lack of external stimulation. In other words, the 21st-century coronavirus pandemic conditions we face ironically approximate those of 5th-century solitary desert monks.
2:30 pmMark CzeislerMonash University (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic—disproportionately affected populations
Presenter Biography:
Mark Czeisler, A.B. (he/him), is a Fulbright Scholar and Ph.D. student in psychology at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health of Monash University (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia). He is also a Research Trainee in the Department of Psychiatry of Brigham and Women's Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts, USA), and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Breathing and Sleep of Austin Health (Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia). Since March 2020, Mark has been leading The COVID-19 Outbreak Public Evaluation (COPE) Initiative, a public health surveillance activity launched to assess (1) public attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs about the COVID-19 pandemic and its mitigation, and (2) mental and behavioral health during the infectious disease outbreak.
Summary of Talk:
The COVID-19 pandemic and its mitigation have introduced challenges for communities related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease itself, and related to mental and behavioral health. Just as with the disease itself, mental and behavioral health inequities are evident. This presentation reviews evidence on mental and behavioral health in 2020, particularly in terms of populations that have disproportionately experienced adverse mental and behavioral health symptoms, and considers how we may reduce these inequities going forward.