Danielle Cooper says she’s constantly in awe of her panelists for the ongoing Sarnia Speaks series.
“I feel extremely emotional about it. This is a huge leap of faith for them -- many are speaking out about their struggles for the very first time,” said the organizer of the successful event, which invites speakers and the public to an open dialogue about various topics at the Sarnia Library Auditorium.
“At the same time, it has not been difficult finding people with these extraordinary stories that they finally feel they can share publicly.”
Cooper, who has struggled with her own mental health in the past, launched the event earlier this year to enhance the public dialogue on everything from LGBTQ issues to mental health.
A recent grant from the Awesome Foundation will allow the event to continue into 2017, with upcoming topics to include addiction, residential schools, and a second mental health session.
The third installment of Sarnia Speaks, taking place July 28, will focus on depression.
Three panelists -- Cat Cabajar, Erica Cote, and James Anger -- will lead the discussion, along with moderator Charlene Mahon.
“It’s a very grassroots initiative,” said Mahon, a Lambton College professor who has an extensive background in mental health work. “Everyone in the audience is rooting for these people; they’re creating an environment of safety, that it’s OK to let your hair down, and be real for a moment.”
She’s hoping participants can share their own sources of strength, so others struggling can take note.
“We’ve broken the silence on mental illness, and we’re busting the stumbling blocks of stigma. Now, we need to build resilience.”
Resilience that hasn’t come easy for Cabajar, a well known local artist who will speak about her own battle with manic depression and bipolar disorder since her teenage years.
Despite her many struggles, including a near overdose on medication and her stay at an adolescent psychiatric ward in London, Cabajar is looking forward to sharing a story of hope.
“I realized that this is something I need to embrace, and now I would say I am in the most balanced place I’ve been,” said Cabajar, now 35, noting that she recognizes her symptoms and has learned how to cope -- even if that just means taking some quiet time for herself.
“I am going as a survivor and a supporter, to let people know there is hope,” she said.
“We need to be kind, and gentle to ourselves. The sun will come out after the storm, you know?
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Sarnia Speaks: Depression
WHEN: Thursday, July 28, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Sarnia Library Theatre
DETAILS: Admission is free