AWI Canada Goes Conference!

Hello friends and supporters!

I’m really excited to tell you about a recent opportunity that Art With Impact had to share our work with mental health professionals. One of our partners,Healthy Minds Canada, submitted an abstract on behalf of our Movies 4 Mental Health program to the 17th Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Care Conference, and we were selected out of 180 applicants to present at the national conference this weekend!

The conference was marketed primarily to family physicians, primary care and mental health care providers, psychiatrists, psychologists, policy makers, consumers, educators and researchers. So, you can imagine my excitement (and nervousness!) when our small but mighty nonprofit had the opportunity to present about our approach to effective stigma reduction and early intervention by guiding conversations and meaningful self exploration through art and short film

With an overarching theme of “Growing Ideas” the conference showcased innovative approaches of collaborative mental health care and it was amazing to hear professionals talk about their vast array of approaches to improving the outcomes of individuals living with mental illnesses. One of my favourite presentations was a keynote by Dr. Rod McCormick, Research Chair in Aboriginal Child and Maternal Health. He stressed that in order to tackle mental health issues in Indigenous communities effectively, we must consider the strong role that culture plays, recognize traditional healing practices, and provide opportunities for communities that have experienced intergenerational trauma and discrimination to reconnect with one another and ”reclaim their own healing resources.” Other ideas from sessions I attended relevant to our work: the need to work with teachers and educators to offer practical strategies for them to support students struggling with their mental health, allowing young people the opportunity to take responsibility for their health journeys, increasing accessibility to services, and focusing on team-based care because let's face it: clinical approaches don’t always work!

I also had the pleasure of listening to a special presentation by Clara Hughes, one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians who has lived with depression and become the country’s biggest mental health advocate. She spoke both representing the 1 in 5 who will struggle with a mental illness in their lifetime, and as the 4 in 5 of being an individual impacted by loved ones or friends experiencing a mental health challenge. She spoke about the stigma that is still so prevalent in our society but reiterated that by sharing our struggles we are able to connect on a deeper level and in doing so share the reality of being human. After seeking help and learning how to address and manage her depression her firm belief that “listening is the most undervalued human capacity” really resonated with all 280 conference attendees whose attention was glued to her the entire time. I have followed Clara’s journey on social media, seeing her speaking at events and conferences across Canada, and so to see her passion and conviction for the cause in person was a real honour. 

I presented on the second day and I was feeling quite nervous about the prospect of being in front of so many established professionals who had been working on the front line of mental health care for years. As someone with an anthropology and nonprofit management background I have to admit that I felt a little bit intimidated! But I know that my passion and lived experience goes a long way, and my almost two years with Art With Impact has driven me to continually push myself professionally and emotionally in a truly authentic way. So, as I sat in the room in the minutes before presenting, watching more and more people enter the room, I thought of the dozens of campuses I’ve visited this past year and hundreds of students I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with in our workshops who were so grateful to be given a unique and safe space to communicate about their mental health and connect with resources. 

Because I’m so used to presenting to individuals in their early twenties I wasn’t sure what to expect for this crowd; but I’d have to say this was one of my most engaged groups yet! The room was so full that individuals were standing at the back, and as I presented our creative approach of addressing internalized stigma I felt that people were gaining an entirely new perspective on the power of art in starting discussions. Together we watched one of our winning films ‘Rinse and Repeat’ and everyone participated in an interactive discussion, sharing how the film made them feel and what it made them think. Many individuals said they were blown away by the empathy that this incredible two and a half minute film could generate, despite their existing in-depth mental health knowledge. I was overwhelmed with the positive reception and so pleased that I could share with so many professionals that art truly is one of the most effective tools we have for discussion, reflection and compassion when it comes to mental health. 

Overall the conference was a really beautiful medley of ideas, reaffirming that adequate and effective mental health awareness, prevention, treatment, and care needs to be a collaborative effort that includes all types of approaches and creative mediums. I hope you’ll consider supporting Art With Impact and help us continue to use the connective superpower of film to create meaningful dialogue with emerging adults! 

Director, AWI Canada

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