Skip to content

First-ever TEDxNewmarket lays bare the ties that unbind

Local organizers chose the theme of mental health and speakers who brought deeply personal accounts of their own mental health journeys and ideas for raising the level of public discourse, treatment, and more

The first-ever TEDxNewmarket event last night focused on a topic you can't talk too much about.

TEDxNewmarket is the brainchild of two local community builders, both familiar fixtures in York Region’s event space, who share a passion for raising the level of discourse around mental health.

It was the event’s topic, and as diverse as the speakers’ personal experiences were with mental health issues — post-traumatic stress disorder, a happiness obsession, self-harm, and bipolar disorder — the common thread binding them together was the act of bringing into the light what has for far too long been kept in the dark.

“Honestly, we chose the mental health theme for our first TEDx because of the impact that topic has in the community,” said co-organizer Brandon Schiafone, who works in the mental health sector. “It’s very dear to my heart and we think as big as it is and as much as it’s being talked about, it still needs to be talked about. We thought a great idea would be to bring the community together under that umbrella.”

Co-organizer Bob Minhas, a thought leader, business coach and founder of Entrepreneur House, said the pair were taken aback by the support and positive community response.

They didn’t even have a chance to roll out the marketing plan for Newmarket’s first TEDx, held at the Old Town Hall. Within two weeks, and with just a branded website and Facebook page to get the word out, the event had sold out.

“We’re blessed. One of the core values we had on our TEDx committee was we wanted people who could most benefit from this event to have access,” Minhas said, adding the TEDx franchise limits first-time event licensees to a maximum of 100 tickets. “So I think we’ve met that, but there’s definitely more than 100 people in York Region who could benefit from that.”

Usually, with events, there’s a grind to get speakers and audience members out, Schiafone added.

“When we let this out to the public, it took on a whole life of its own,” he said.

The dynamic TEDx duo partnered with the Town of Newmarket and Newmarket Public Library on everything from the venue and videographer to its speaker selection committee. In all, that committee received 55 applications from people who wanted to present at the event.

“One of the challenges in selecting the speakers is that both Brandon and myself have a huge speaker network. We received a lot of private messages asking for preferential treatment,” Minhas said, adding that the selection process was dramatic and emotional for them. “TEDx is a big responsibility, so we purposefully set up a committee that took away all powers from us to decide on speakers ourselves.”

Schiafone added, “We were looking for out-of-the-box thinking that could really contribute to mental health, and that could really bring value. The speakers we chose were all talking about stories that personally resonate with them, and that they believe we need to be looking at in terms of mental health as an industry.”

Before diving headfirst into TEDx, Minhas and Schiafone were involved for several years with the popular speaker series, Momondays Aurora, the latter as a host and the former its marketing guru.

“We chose the speakers simply on the power of their message,” Minhas said. “We wanted average people who had amazing ideas. TEDx isn’t a speaking platform, like Momondays Aurora, it’s ideas worth sharing.“

Minhas, himself, has spoken at a Momondays event on his own mental health challenges after divorce. It’s how he and Schiafone first met.

“A little over a year ago, a mutual friend was asking for business advice on Facebook. I chimed in with advice and Brandon chimed in as well. He invited me to speak about my mental health journey,” Minhas said.

They have been inseparable ever since.

Before the start of the event, NewmarketToday asked the TEDxNewmarket speakers what idea they were bringing to the stage. Here’s what they said:

Ron Clifford, photographer

“Hope. The idea that I’m sharing is hope. That there is recovery and a life beyond our illness. But our illness is not who we are, it’s just something we have. And we can live successful and emotionally fulfilled lives in spite of carrying a mental illness.”

Alexander Theodorou, executive director,

“My idea is to discuss the role of how we are connected to our society, but it’s how we approach those connections with curiosity (that) opens up a lot of opportunities. And for me, I’m sharing how that curiosity was shaped. And where technology helped to bring me to where I am today. So, for myself, we had a start-up business and the nature of that was that although there was some tragedy that had led up to this, it was in being able to approach your life with curiosity and being non-judgmental and through that, you’re able to find opportunities.”

Merav Richter, author, entrepreneur, comedian

“I’m sharing ... has the search for happiness made us all unhappy today in our world? I’m sharing that my grandmother was actually the happiest person I’ve ever known. And I’m sure yours was, too. We have something in our generation today where we are on the hedonic treadmill for happiness. We are constantly thinking big is better, more is better. And there’s something, a wisdom that the generations that came before us had that we don’t have anymore. So, I’m introducing that concept and sharing something really personal, you know, a very dark night of the soul that I went through in order to come through and realize this.”

Jon Carson, founder of Mindful Cop, member of York Regional Police

“My idea I’m sharing is a bit about my journey with post-traumatic stress disorder, how it changed my life and how I started looking at holistic practices like mindfulness to combat some of those mental health issues. One of the reasons why I started speaking up was because of the stigma around mental health, especially in my culture, the policing culture. Our whole approach to mental health in our communities is completely wrong, we wait for pathology to set in for people before we give them help. One of the things I’m really interested in sharing today is the message to try to get people to leave here and talk about mental health, not just one day a year. Make it a year-round conversation.”

Yashar Khosroshahi, naturopathic doctor, co-founder of Mindshift Ninja

“Simply put, it’s a message of self-compassion. But that I had to learn that going through a very difficult tough time, which included trying to harm myself. Well, it has brought me here this far. And I say in my talk that most people think it’s a fluffy or weak thing, but from the scientific standpoint, it’s one of the most robust tools, and one of the most important we can learn to build from a psychological level. The research is fabulous, from depression to anxiety to post-traumatic stress, body dysmorphia, on and on, to violence in the home. People who have higher self-criticism are more prone to all of those challenges. So, when we actually spend the time to learn what it is to build self-compassion, we can do a lot for mental health.”

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx, a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. The Newmarket event is called TEDxNewmarket, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events, including this local one, are self-organized.

Check the TEDxNewmarket Facebook page for information on when the TED-style talks will be available, and at the website.