In the past two years, there has been an increased effort in the WordPress community to raise awareness of mental health. Cory Miller, Rich Robinkoff, Michele Butcher, and others have presented on the subject at numerous WordCamps.
A common theme that surrounds mental health is the fear of discussing it openly. WPHugs.org, a passion project by Leo Gopal, aims to provide a safe space for people to connect, educate, and raise awareness of mental health.
“I suffered many times in my life so far with extreme depression,” Gopal said. “One of the most difficult parts of dealing with extreme depression is the feeling that you can’t tell anyone about it. This can include your boss or colleagues who you spend most of your time with.”
“Until, at WordCamp Cape Town 2016, I stood in front of a conference room full of people and ‘confessed’ that I am afflicted with depression. After the talk, many people came to me and called me ‘brave’ to be so open, and many opened up and thanked me for helping them realize that they too are not alone.
“After my recovery from attempted suicide, it was the friends I had made in the WordPress Community that gave me the most support. I reached my darkest point, and I got there feeling alone. WPHugs hopes to be a torch that allows others to never get to such a space.”
WPHugs has a Slack group that’s free to join that provides an opportunity for like-minded people to discuss topics in real-time. While the conversations in the Slack channel are not private, Gopal is hopeful that the community will be built around trust and honesty.
“I suspect that there will be more direct messages than there will be channel messages, and that’s okay, the connections are being made, we are talking more,” he said.
WPHugs is a not-for-profit passion project and although the site has sponsorship opportunities available, Gopal is looking for companies and people who can contribute time and resources.
“If companies want to contribute licenses to their software to help expand, grow, reach more people, by all means it is completely welcome,” Gopal said. “Sponsor time or resources, whatever you can to make this project thrive and survive, because it’s important, it could save someone’s life.”
Gopal admits he’s not an authority on how to maintain good mental health but plans to crowdsource tips, tricks, and host conversations to help others. Heavily inspired by HeroPress, Gopal wants to publish weekly essays called Mental Health War Stories.
The most important message WPHugs wants to get across is that people who are suffering from mental illnesses are not alone.
“It’s about making us aware of ourselves, taking care of our own mental health and how important it is for those around us. It’s also about being more empathetic for those around us who suffer in their own way and know that someone cares,” Gopal said.
“I went through a struggle discovering my mental illness and learning about it, and I did it alone. I don’t want that journey for others to be as solitary. I am a hugger.”
To share a mental health war story or to get involved with the project, you can get in touch with Gopal through the WPHugs contact form.
As someone suffering from depression unawares for more than two-thirds of my life and especially struggling with it in the past couple of years, I felt extremely lonely and unable to talk to anyone too many times, especially since so much of the conversation would involve WordPress and most such groups wouldn’t have such context readily available.
I have also talked about it publicly at WordCamps in India. Partly, because I feel some of us have to try and break the stigma and shame associated with it and partly, because in a selfish way, I thought I’d be able to meet others like me.
A couple of people did reach out to me privately, but it’s difficult to have a sustained conversation or find empathy or support in this part of the world, where depression is equated with grief and/or a sign of personal weakness.
Even though I thought about doing something like this a couple of times, depression just eats into your personal and professional life and regularly gets into a very dark space where it’s very difficult to see any light and have any confidence. I’m going to get in touch with them right away and see if I can help in any way possible.
I’d also like to thank WPTavern and especially you, Jeff, for regularly taking the conversation to even the fringes. If not for you, I’d never find out about such things in my corner of the world.