When Paul Hansell took his own life in 2010, his father Brian made a firm decision to try to make sure other depressed teens get the help they need before it’s too late.
Moving on with life without his son, Brian Hansell created the Paul Hansell Foundation as well as developing a new version of the traditional house-visit gift – a plate.
The product is called ConvoPlate, encouraging teens to engage in conversation and express their feelings when they are in a sombre mood, and the hashtag Twitter symbol is included in the name.
“You get invited to somebody’s house and you bring hors d’oeuvres or a bottle of wine,” he said. Rather than spending all that money, I decided to start sending a thank-you letter to the hosts, letting them know I was making a donation to the Paul Hansell Foundation in their name.
“Then I landed on the idea of something concrete like a plate.”
Each distinctive and individually numbered #ConvoPlate is designed to inspire discussion about mental health. Individuals receiving a plate are asked to start a conversation about mental health, share that they are part of the conversation thread on social media (quoting the hashtag #ConvoPlate and plate number), consider a donation to an organization that advances mental wellness and pass the #ConvoPlate on to someone else.
The newest lot of 30 #ConvoPlate plates were created by a team of students from Assumption Catholic Secondary School, where Paul graduated in 2010, and the Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK).
Under the leadership of technician Michelle Lynn, at the Art Gallery of Burlington, students helped to make the plates and decorate them in the pottery studio. Each plate bears a pertinent message for students, like ‘Let’s talk about mental health,’ ‘Keep the Conversation Going,’ and ‘Don’t be what others want you to be. Be what you want to be.’
Lynn said ceramics always has been a form of therapy.
“The more you do it, the more self-assured you become,” she said. “It builds confidence.”
Burlington MP Karina Gould has jumped on board after meeting Brian through a mutual friend Bill Liabotis, who taught Brian at Mohawk College
“Mental health is an issue that came up a lot during the election campaign,” Gould said. “As politicians negotiate the next federal-provincial health accord, it’s important to keep it in the forefront.”
The rookie MP made a statement in the House of Commons on May 5, the same day students at Assumption put the 30 new #ConvoPlate plates into circulation during a special student-written, produced and performed play entitled Beneath Our Skin.
The play, staged during Mental Health Week, was written to shed light and awareness on difficult mental wellness issues faced by high school students.
For the plate she designed, Gould chose the slogan, ‘Let Your Inside out, you’ll be surprised at who you meet!’
Eventually Gould will pass her plate along to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with the goal of creating more awareness of mental health issues and securing more funding.
Chris Firby grew up with Paul and the two remained best of friends through high school and their first year of university.
“Paul played piano and guitar and then started singing and making CD’s,” Firby said. “He was very energetic and very pro-active in reaching out to other people.
“If he felt you were feeling down, he would have you over to his house, sit down and talk to you. Anybody in his vicinity always felt like they belonged.”
Firby never had an inkling that Paul was suffering from depression himself.
When he learned of Paul’s death, he was in total shock.
“I was preparing to write a math exam in my first year of university,” he said. “I had just talked to him a few days before about getting together. It was traumatizing to learn that someone’s life could be cut so short, especially one whose life was so vibrant.”
The Paul Hansell Foundation operates inside the Burlington Community Foundation, which provides all of the administration, accounting, reporting and aggregates all funds for investment purposes.
The website co-ordinates are www.paulhansellfoundation.com

Written by: Denis Gibbons

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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