Semicolon Man: 'Everyone deals with mental illness'

PHOTO PROVIDEDSemicolon Man aims to break the stigma surrounding mental illness and give strength to those who suffer and feel they must hide their struggles. His alter-ego, Joe Ferris, will give a talk on mental health at Men's Night Out Friday night.


That's what Joe Ferris, also known as "Semicolon Man," hopes people will get out of his talk at Men's Night Out: Tackling Mental Health on Friday night.

"It’s completely natural," he said.

"We can be a little bit less afraid of saying we deal with mental health in our lives and be less afraid of reaching out to each other because of it."



The purpose of Men's Night Out is "to empower men with the information needed to make the right treatment decisions on health issues," according to the Foundation at CVPH, which is co-sponsoring the event with CFA Insurance Agency LLC.

Along with Ferris, psychiatrists Dr. Winston Chung and Dr. Peter Jackson from the University of Vermont Health Network's Division of Psychiatry will speak about male mental-health issues and encourage men to participate in treatment of their children.

And Behavioral Health Services North Director of Clinical and Adult Services Shawn Sabella will discuss services available locally.

Ferris's efforts started "with a real passion for spreading the word about mental-health awareness and also reaching out to people that are dealing with it."

He started by organizing a race in his hometown of Willsboro, then collaborating with Impeerium Program Administrator Nick Dubay and National Alliance on Mental Illness-Champlain Valley Director Amanda Allen on a race and rally in Plattsburgh.



Ferris's passion came from the realization that mental illness is misunderstood, though everybody deals with it.

"But we act like a select few do, and we act like we should be afraid, and that’s not the reality," he said.

Growing up, Ferris said, his family did not believe mental illness was something to broadcast or really talk about.

He has struggled with self-doubt, loneliness, depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

"Being somebody who has dealt with stuff in my life, I feel like it’s my duty to help the next person feel like they can reach out and not be afraid of the stigma around it."



So earlier this year, Ferris adopted the part-time persona of Semicolon Man, in collaboration with NAMI:CV.

He dawns a purple and blue suit, complete with mask, cape and a semicolon in the middle of his chest, which in mental-illness awareness initiatives symbolizes that a person's story isn't over yet.

Semicolon Man makes appearances at NAMI events when possible.

In the Battle of Plattsburgh parade in September, he played "Stand By Me" on the banjo as he marched with the NAMI group.

Ferris also marched in the local LGBTQ Pride Parade and would like Semicolon Man to partake in future marches.

"I would like to have Semicolon Man be a symbol of people not being alone and serve as a strength to those who suffer and feel like they have to be quiet about it," he said.



Semicolon Man's mantra would be, "Share your story; be the hero," Ferris said.

'What that means to me is that I feel comfortable saying everybody deals with mental illness at one point in their life or another."

What makes a difference is how people react to their mental illnesses, he continued.

"Is it something that we brush under the carpet and run from? Or is it something that we say, 'Hey, I’ve dealt with this and I can help make a positive change because of that'?"

Ferris described having an internal breakthrough or realization that he wasn't going to hide who he was anymore.

"This is something I’m dealing with, this is something tons of people deal with, and it’s something that is hurt by us not speaking about it.

"So there’s no point to hiding anymore."



A musician and artist, Ferris has used his artwork to relax as he copes with his mental-illness struggles and shares his passion for spreading awareness.

His works include posters that people may have seen locally depicting Dubay and Allen also dressed as semicolon heroes and caricatures.

"Beyond just the therapeutic experience of creating, it’s also a way of giving meaning to your life ... being able to create something that you share with other people."

Ferris majors in anthropology at SUNY Plattsburgh, which has allowed him to look at mental-health awareness and how it relates to our culture.

"My thesis project, which I’m graduating with, is on the topic of OCD and the social construction of OCD within our population."



In the beginning of 2018, Ferris plans to release a mental-health awareness album featuring "Recovery Song," which he will perform at Men's Night Out.

Thirty percent of sales will be donated to mental-health foundations.

"I think it’s an understood cultural phenomenon that men should not show weakness and shouldn’t ask for directions and shouldn’t ask for help," Ferris said.

"It’s so wrong, and we are just as human as anybody, and we experience just as much emotions as anybody."


Email Cara Chapman:

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman 


Men's Night Out: Tackling Mental Health will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Valcour Brewing Company, 49 Ohio Ave., Plattsburgh.

The event will feature music, food, a beverage, speakers and a silent auction.

Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online at or at Valcour Brewing Company.

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