MARYSTOWN, NL – A mental health wellness conference held in Marystown this past weekend touched on many subjects, but the common thread throughout the day was laughter.
“Every speaker had something different to offer, but the theme … was the importance of laughter,” said Krysta Foote, executive director of the Burin Peninsula Voice Against Violence, the group responsible for the event.
The day-long event held at the Marystown Hotel and Convention Centre featured guest speakers Jeremy Bennet, TA Loeffler and Barry Lewis Green.
Foote said each speaker brought something different to the table while speaking to the approximately 250 people in attendance, but all injected some humor into the presentation.
“I think that was just really great for the whole room and brought energy to the room,” she said.
Happy to be invited
The conference presenters were all happy to be part of the event.
“(I) couldn’t wait,” said Bennett, an author and mental health advocate. “I was here a few times before and every time I enjoyed it immensely, so I’ve been looking forward to this presentation for several months.”
Bennett said it was great to see so many people take part in the event – “beautiful people, wonderful people, and it’s great to see a packed room.”
Loeffler is a mountaineer and professor of outdoor recreation in the Memorial University’s human kinetics and recreation program. She said it was a privilege to be invited to Marystown to speak.
“I love coming down to Marystown,” she said. “I enjoy the energy down here and the connections that I’ve made within the community, so it’s always a privilege to be invited.”
Loeffler, who has climbed some of the highest mountains in the world, was in Marystown a number of years ago and got to know the students of St. Anne’s School in South East Bight. She said students at the school have been keeping track of her travels over the past year.
“They’ve been kind of doing ‘Where’s TA Now?’ with their teacher, Elena Whyte. They’ve been following me on the map so it was great to come in and tell stories from that trip.”
She and the students had an outdoor afternoon where they did some sledding and played in the snow, “so it was a great day.”
Green said it’s important for communities to hold events that focus on mental health and wellness.
“It’s vital,” he said. “I think more communities need to do this sort of thing, bringing like-minded people together and making those kinds of connection or build on existing connections.
“I don’t care what community it is in this province – we need more of this.”
Jillian Walsh of Marystown said she found the event informative and enlightening, and was moved when Bennett shared his personal story of overcoming obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
“(Going from) not understanding what was going on to how he helped himself beat OCD is absolutely astounding,” she said.
She added Loeffler’s presentation was inspiring in its message that no matter what your goal, anything is possible if you are determined to succeed.
Though Walsh said she enjoyed all three presenters, Green’s story of his father going through dementia hit close to home.
“The story Barry shared about his father was truly inspiring,” she said.
Nicole Kelly, who also attended the event, said there was consistency to the message speakers delivered.
“Each speaker touched on different aspects of mental health and wellness but the three presentations flowed extremely well together,” she said.
Kelly said the event offered useful information about mental health and wellness that participants could take away to help themselves or others.
“As a facilitator in my job at the Smallwood Crescent Community Centre I feel I took away useful techniques, such as how to calm the mind, that I can now share with my clients,” she explained.
Voice Against Violence is open to the idea of holding similar events, said Foote.
“Maybe on a smaller scale but definitely,” she said. “The response was so great I think there’s real a need in the community (for more).”