In many parts of the world mental health is defined by medication. Sadness does not become depression until it is ‘treated’ with antidepressants, and anxiety is a normal part of life; until, that is, pills are prescribed for social anxiety disorder, which, according to a recent article in New York Times Magazine, is “the most common mental illness in America, affecting an estimated 40 million adults.”
Here in Câmpulung Moldovenesc, a small city in northeastern Romania along the banks of the Moldova River, a group of inspiring activists would rather focus on their mental health than mental illness. They advocate for a community-based approach which integrates mental health service users into society, rather than the usual segregation and stigmatization. “Be interested and understanding with your neighbor,” the homepage of their website declares, “do not ignore him, do not fear him, help.”
Awareness of mental health – much less community-based mental health – is only beginning to spread in Romania as the country transitions from its Communist past to its 2007 accession to the European Union.
Every Thursday afternoon, in a small room provided by the municipality, the members of Orizonturi Foundation meet to work on their monthly literary magazine, A Fi, or “To Be.” Over the past year they have also been trained by Ovidiu Marginean – a local psychologist and technophile – to maintain blogs and use social networks in order to share their stories and forge their own online identities. Juhie has previously reported on the project's progress as it evolved from an idealistic idea to a training-the-trainers’ workshop in Bucharest to the weekly bloggers club, and even strategies for sustaining and scaling up the project. Beth Kanter took notes on Gabriela's presentation at a non-profit web 2.0 conference organized by Soros Romania.
The most active participants of the “Blogging the Dream” project have been Ovidiu Loy, Geta, and Olga Oana. Ovidiu Loy – who has courageously spoken at local schools about his battles with depression and alcoholism – published a blog post earlier this year titled “Free!” (Machine translation.)
I am a man who was consumed by alcohol as a youth. I was a passionate alcoholic. I now know what life is without drinking. I consider alcohol a drug. Several years ago I managed to stop and try to restore my life to do what it was before.
What did I do? I got a job and managed to promote our city with an institution: Academy Catavencu! I managed to complete driving school. I learned to use the computer and the Internet. Many times I was able to go to driving school by myself. Leaving alcohol is a pretty big risk! A lot of people stop accepting you as you were before. Soon you change your lifestyle and behavior. Many will not understand you.
I hope that things will change for me and that I will be able to write nice things and show how good and beautiful it is to quit this drug!
Constantin interviews Olga Oana about her participation in the “Blogging the Dream” club.
Last Thursday I was able to join the “Blogging the Dream” weekly meeting. I gave a short presentation about Global Voices and some of the other Rising Voices grantee projects. Then we decided to collectively produce a video. The participants suggested and voted on several possible topics including “how older and younger generations of Romanians see their country” and “a history of the local market.” Eventually we settled on a discussion about the Orizonturi Foundation and what it has meant for each of them. We created a storyboard and sketched a general outline of what they wanted to discuss in the video.
Video kindly sub-titled in English by Cristiana Anca of ARET.
Although the Blogging the Dream project in Romania was one of the first to use new media to promote community mental health, the strategy has since spread far and wide. The New York Times Magazine article notes that there is a “thriving community of anxiety blogs,” including the group blog We Worry. About.com lists many other sites and directories of mental health blogs.
As Ovidiu Loy mentioned to me, blogs can offer individuals with mental health issues a space where they are treated fairly, without the discrimination they face everyday offline. But, he warned, the internet can also become a space for escape which isolates you even more from the community around you. Loy says that for a time he became too involved in the internet and forgot about the world outside. The next step, it seems, is to use the tolerance and acceptance found online as a tool and strategy to confront the stigma and discrimination which is still pervasive offline.