Earlier this month, the Canadian Mental Health Association (www.cmha.ca) held its annual Mental Health Week, which is a chance for folks to understand more about a most pressing and human issue.
There is a lot to learn, not least of which is what individuals can do to better the lives of people living with a mental illness.
Now, in some of my past writing on this issue, I have stressed what is wrong with the system: what is not happening; what is being neglected.
One tires of negativity, and so here I’d like to shine a light on the people and services in our community that are making a positive difference – to give readers a chance to appreciate the good things being done and, hopefully, to learn by example.
The Arrowhead Clubhouse, with a membership of something like 130 adults living with a mental illness, is front and center. (Disclaimer: I am a member of the Arrowhead Clubhouse Society board of directors.) Though vastly underfunded, and strictly speaking a Community Services program (www.sccss.ca), Arrowhead thrives on the energy of individual members and volunteers.
At the Clubhouse (www.arrowhead-clubhouse.org), members provide each other with peer support, fellowship, and encouragement. Over the years, countless community volunteers have walked through Arrowhead’s open doors to cook meals, donate food and clothing, and to offer simple gestures of acceptance.
St. John’s United Church, in Davis Bay (www.stjohns-united.org), and its congregation, stands out as a source of support and inspiration for community members living with a mental illness. A few Sundays ago, I took part in a deeply affecting service focused on Arrowhead. In attendance were five people who – either current or past – have held the position of board president for the Arrowhead Clubhouse Society. I was one of those people.
Now, to individuals who make a difference. I can’t mention them all, but they know who they are. If one thing unifies them, it is sheer audacity and hope (to pinch a line from Obama).
Janice Williams is perhaps the most courageous person I know. Her book, “Mental Case 101. Trussed Issues,” is a brutally candid story – written by a marvelously talented writer and illustrated with her equally wonderful art. Janice hosts regular public readings for all writers at her place and also reads from her work at the library and other places. Through these acts of sheer bravery, she gives us an example of what it means to be forthright and honest.
Michael Mann is another writer in our community who spreads the word. Mike is plucky and fearless. His book, “I Am A Man Who Cries,” is not easy reading; but it is essential. Mike, too, reads publicly. Listening to him speak gets into your bones.
Humour is the ultimate solvent; differences, fears, and ignorance melt away with laughter.
Victoria Maxwell is the funniest person I know. (Janice is a close second.) Her one-woman shows are harrowing. However, like the folks I mentioned above, her work is at once distressing but also liberating. She’s a hero to those who have been in her audience – especially to people living with bipolar disorder. Check out her site. www.victoriamaxwell.com
I will mention two other people who exert a positive influence in the Sunshine Coast community: John Gleeson, my editor at the Coast Reporter (www.coastreporter.net), who continues to dedicate scarce editorial real estate to this column; and MLA Nicholas Simons, who is always there for those who need a helping hand or a strong shoulder to lean on.
If you know of someone who is making a difference, however modest, and wherever you live, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like this piece to have a sequel.
A version of this piece appeared in The Coast Reporter.