Astronaut Chris Hadfield is a supporter of the ConvoPlate project. Photo: Courtesy of Jolene Hansell.
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Chris Hadfield, Roméo Dallaire, Jacques Frémont engaged in initiative

Have you seen a plate circulating around the University of Ottawa campus? Jolene Hansell, a second-year common law student at the University of Ottawa, hopes to raise awareness for mental health issues through her ConvoPlate initiative.

Launched in May 2016, ConvoPlate is part of the Paul Hansell Foundation, which was founded in memory of Jolene Hansell’s late brother who died of suicide in December 2010.  

Hansell told the Fulcrum about the importance of one’s choice of words when discussing suicide.

“The language there is important. We are very adamant about using the word ‘died’ of suicide, rather than ‘committed’ suicide, because of the negative connotations that surround the word ‘committed,’” said Hansell.

The plates used in the ConvoPlate project are made as part of an art therapy program called Art Break, through the Art Gallery of Burlington. Young people come into the gallery and they make hand-painted stoneware plates, one of which goes into circulation and is trackable by the artist, and the other is taken home.

According to Hansell, the idea to create the plates came from her father Brian, who is the president of the foundation.

“The idea with these plates is that it’s a conversation starter, it gets people to talk about something they may not have otherwise talked about,” said Hansell. “And it doesn’t always have to be this dark and twisty thing. Mental health is something that we all have, we all need to nourish every day.”

“It shouldn’t be something that as a society is a taboo to discuss.”

Once someone receives the plate, they register it online, and from there they can track how it is being passed on to people around the world. Individuals can also post photos and stories about the plate on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to continue the conversation around mental health, which is the foundation’s main goal.

“The focus of Paul Hansell Foundation is youth mental health, so we really want youth to be having this conversation,” said Hansell. “That’s why we want to be engaged on these social media platforms.”

Currently, there are more than 50 plates in circulation and they have already fallen into the hands of notable individuals such as astronaut Chris Hadfield and humanitarian Roméo Dallaire.

A plate has also recently managed to reach U of O president Jacques Frémont and is currently circulating the university’s campus.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is also the first government agency to receive a plate, and Hansell hopes to one day see the plate in the hands of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We really have found that they spark very interesting conversations about mental health within the people who get them and their families and friends, and that’s the feedback we have been getting which is awesome,” said Hansell.

Currently, Hansell is working to organize a ConvoPlate project in local schools, with lesson plans revolving around how the plates can be passed from school to school. She is also working on creating tailor-made ConvoPlates, such as plates for specific industries.

“Just like you do things for your physical self, you need to be doing things everyday for your mental health—making sure that you find the time to do that and to talk about those things that you do to help support your mental health.”

For more information on the ConvoPlate initiative, please visit the Paul Hansell Foundation’s website.