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De-stigmatizing mental illness 

click to enlarge An artist hard at work at Veith Street Gallery. - ANGELA GZOWSKI

Much of the direct help for people suffering from mental illness comes through government-funded programs. We've directed your attention to several of the charities that work in social and community support roles around that work, in hopes that you would contribute your time and money to help those groups.

Yet one of the biggest obstacles in getting people the help they need is simply social stigma, says Ruth Carter, the director of mental health and addiction services at the IWK. "The stigma around mental illness often prevents people from reaching out and seeking help," she explains. "And on the other side is stigma in the health care system itself, where people are made to feel that they're at fault, or it's their weakness that has caused the illness."

Carter says the hospital has initiated a series of workshops, having people who have experienced stigma directly explain their experiences to hospital staff, and has already tracked a successful change in attitudes. And, she notes, some companies, like Bell Aliant, have similar campaigns within their workforce. Carter is pleased to see ads on buses and before movies that address stigma straight on.

"Everybody has someone in their family or extended family that suffers from mental illness," Carter says. Those who are directly aware of the issues around stigma can approach the Mental Health Commission or IWK and get the resources necessary to start anti-stigma campaigns in their workplaces.

Veith Street Gallery
3115 Veith Street, 446-6010,
Veith Street Gallery, tucked away on an unassuming corner in the north end, features art by members of the Creative Spirit East collective, a group of 100 artists who are challenged by disabilities. The gallery got its start in 2003, providing educational programming, open studio space and free gallery space for the artists of the collective. Gallery administrator Justina Dollard says the gallery’s first goal is to help the artists thrive. “We just want to give them the tools to reach their full potential,” she says.

How to give: For people looking to help keep the gallery up and running, Dollard says there’s a donation reward program called the Kindred Spirit Program. You can donate through the website, and receive benefits ranging from gift cards to free rentals of artists’ works. Dollard says the beauty of the gallery is the diversity of the art. “We have everything from Native to modern art, every skill level from beginner to university-educated.”

Affirmative Ventures
261 Pleasant Street, 225-2130
Affirmative Ventures, formerly known as Affirmative Industries, offers a “hand up” to community members with disabilities through providing employment opportunities for skill development, entrepreneurship accompanied by affordable housing. “The whole idea of us is business and employment training---it’s all about giving people the tools they need before they go and venture out on their own,” coordinator Lori Edgar says. The organization helps people with disabilities obtain job coaching and employment training at shops like the Common Values Gift and Goods Emporium (5989 Cunard Street) and Petstuff on the Go (261 Pleasant Street in Dartmouth).

How to give: Edgar says the best way to lend a hand this holiday season is by supporting their businesses with your wallets. “We’re locally owned and operated, and we appreciate when people use our businesses as shopping places,” she says. “We’re open for business, and the whole idea is that after they’re trained, the employees can move on to another job in the community.”


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