Ottawa

Ottawa woman's 'Convo Plates' spread across Canada and beyond

Chris Hadfield, Margaret Trudeau and Roméo Dallaire are just a few of the notable Canadians to hold 'Convo Plates', a new mental health initiative started by an Ottawa woman and her father.

Jolene Hansell hopes to spark mental health conversations after losing brother to suicide

Jolene Hansell launched #ConvoPlates, along with her father, in memory of her 18-year-old brother, who she lost to suicide in 2010. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC News)

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. The premier of Ontario. Margaret Trudeau. Retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire.

Those are just some of the notable Canadians who have already held a "Convo Plate" — a new mental health initiative started by an Ottawa woman and her father, in memory of the 18-year-old brother and son they lost to suicide in 2010.

Convo Plates are small, individual, ceramic plates that Jolene and Brian Hansell, hope to spread around the globe in an effort to spark conversations about mental health.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield holds the 'Convo Plate' that was passed to him. (The Paul Hansell Foundation)

The plates have already made it as far away as Alberta, Texas, Georgia, England and The Netherlands, since the initiative launched at the beginning of May.

A plate has made it inside the House of Commons twice, and more than 27 members of Parliament, seven Ontario MPPs and three Canadian mayors, including Ottawa's Jim Watson, have held one.

Plates are 'portable, easily shareable'

"It's exploded into something way bigger than we could have ever imagined," said Jolene, the vice-president of the Paul Hansell Foundation, her brother's namesake, 

"The original idea was that we wanted mental health to be part of our every day conversations...with the plate, it's something that's portable and easily shareable."

Brian Hansell with Margaret Trudeau, who was one of the first people to hold a 'Convo Plate' after the initiative was launched in May. (The Paul Hansell Foundation)

After receiving a plate, people are encouraged to share a picture on social media using #ConvoPlates, and pass it on to someone else to prompt more conversations about mental wellness.

There are currently about 50 plates in circulation and each one is branded with a number so the foundation can track where they go.

Mental health was 'shoved under the rug'

Paul Hansell was Jolene's only sibling, and she said she still feels "an amazing bond that will always be a part of me."

"I think that he'd be proud that it's a conversation that we're having...[Mental wellness] is something that we didn't talk about when we were growing up," Hansell told CBC News from her home in Ottawa.

Paul Hansell, 18, lost his life to suicide in 2010. (The Paul Hansell Foundation)

"It was something that was just taken for granted, or just shoved under the rug, just things that you don't talk about, or that aren't said out loud," she said.

All the plates are decorated by students in an art therapy program in Burlington, Ont, where Paul went to high school.

Prime Minister Trudeau is 'one of our goals'

Hansell and her father have plans to put more plates into circulation, and high hopes for where they might end up. 

"We have five or six big goals for the plates…the prime minister [Justin Trudeau] is one of our goals. The secretary general of the United Nations, the [head] of the World Health Organization, to the royal family and to the Pope."

Hansell said her hope is "that one day somebody else won't be in the same place as my brother. They'll be able to ask for help, and it'll be OK and completely normal to say, 'I'm having a bad day, I need to take a mental health day.'

"It's only by having these conversations that you get there."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has held a 'Convo Plate' twice. (The Paul Hansell Foundation)

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