In the city of Câmpulung Moldovenesc, in North Eastern Romania, the Orizonturi Foundation will be creating a Blogging Club in the upcoming months in hopes of changing their community's perceptions of those with mental health problems. Their project, “Blogging the Dream,” is one of the six new health-focused citizen media outreach projects that were announced in June by Rising Voices and Open Society Institute’s Health Media Initiative.
Câmpulung Moldovenesc is on the banks of the Moldova River in Suceava County. It is one of the county's main cities, with approximately 20,000 people, and serves as a good base for exploring the nearby Rarau Mountains. This video gives an overview of the city's landscape.
The Orizonturi Foundation has been working in this city and helping those with mental health issues since 1995. Approximately one percent of those in Romania suffer from some kind of mental health disorder. To help deal with this problem in their county, the organization has been providing services ranging from counseling and art therapy to organizing parties and excursions for those with mental health issues. The men and women they work with participate in the weekly activities such as reading, listening to music, playing games, and birthday parties.
Of the organization's 70 or so members, about 20 will be involved in the Blogging the Dream project. The project's goal is to create a Blogging Club for their mental health services users, who have mental health problems including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They will be trained on how to maintain a blog, upload videos, and use social networks, allowing them to share their own stories, interests, and experiences.
Gariela Tanasan, the project's leader, expands on the project's aspirations:
Our goal is to enable users to utilize their talents, as well as develop new skills to demonstrate that they are active and valuable assets to their community. Creating this opportunity will help break through stigma barriers, prevent future misunderstandings that lead to discrimination, and rectify the present misrepresentation of mental health in the media, therefore offering them the possibility to become a more powerful voice within social life.
The project will start off with a four-month training period — two months will be spent on technology, and then there will be a two-month practicum period, where users will create blogs and share their new technical skills with others. Once completed, the participants will then take part in the Blogging Club, where they will participate on one collaborative blog. The hope is that once the Blogging Club is up and running, those with mental health issues can help break down the stigma themselves by sharing their stories and creating their own online identities.
Tanasan says that a blog is the perfect medium to do this:
People with mental health problems in Romania have many assigned landmarks, including: violent, a danger for themselves and the others, freaky, abnormal, etc. Stigma and discrimination are at home in Romania; social reinsertion and rehabilitation are major problems we need to overcome, and that is why the blog in itself is to become our instrument in fighting against them. Journalists have no experience in dealing with mental health related news, therefore their articles are especially discriminating and stigmatizing, rather than informative and educational. Their prejudices and mentality shade over their transmitted information.
This is the first time the organization has used citizen media to help fight such prejudices and integrate those with mental health issues into the community, so the next steps in their project are to purchase equipment and get an Internet connection. However, they have used other media to achieve similar goals. The organization also publishes a magazine called „A fi – To be,”. The magazine is completely produced by their mental health services users and is the first of its kind in Romania. The publication not only helps build relationships among those with mental health problems, but also between them and the community.
Tanasan says the main challenge with the magazine has been maintaining its funding. Though a blog is more self-sustainable and a cheaper way to share stories and experiences, it can pose other challenges. For example, she says, mental health services users are not used to working with computers and the Internet, so they may be intimidated by the task. Other challenges can include the possibility of participants losing interest or temporarily stopping blogging because of health concerns. The project plans to overcome these challenges by adding team-building to its training, which will hopefully promote friendships and encourage members to stay involved, even in difficult times.
In the end, the hope is that the Blogging Club will provide an alternative way for mental health services users to reveal themselves. Tanasan says:
Mental health services users need a realistic way of presenting their own experiences and stories. This can only be done by self-presentation, therefore giving them the possibility to come up with their own words, points of view and interpretations. We hope to change the misrepresentation of mental health in the media.