BY: KABRENA ROBINSON
Conversations and awareness surrounding mental health have always been an area frequently shunned in society. Due to existing stigmas caused by lack of awareness, many individuals living with a mental illness are often reluctant to speak out and seek help. However, with many charities and organizations centered around awareness and support, negative attitudes and stigmas attached to mental illnesses are gradually changing. The Essence of Mind Outreach Program is one successful organization that has been an active agent catalyzing this change.
The charity is a public non-profit organization that provides families and individuals with essential support to getting treatment regarding mental illness by hosting fundraising events that are also aimed at spreading awareness of mental health. The program was brought to life by Simone Walsh who had her own experience with anxiety and depression. During those moments, Walsh found that there were not enough outlets and resources made accessible for individuals like herself who struggled with a mental illness.
“I wanted to create that platform where we can come together and talk about it and just know that it is okay not to be okay,” Walsh said.
Statistics show that one in five Canadians experience a mental health or addiction problem. Mental illness can range from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, intellectual disabilities to developmental disorders including autism. The effects of a mental illness on an individual are most times unique and undetectable to making it difficult to seek help.
Walsh hopes that with a charity like the Essence of Mind Outreach Program, that can be changed. A major part of their initiative is to raise funds and awareness and the hosting of their annual gala that is now in its seventh year.
The gala was held on Saturday October 29th at the Maple Banquet Hall Event Centre and hosted by notable playwright and mental health and addiction specialist Colleen Taffe, who’s latest and upcoming work titled “Piece of Mind” highlights “the unforeseen world of mental illness and its damaging effects of stigma, quite tangible in the black community”.
Attendees and supporters who came out in numbers were also entertained with music by DJ Nigel and performances by poet Amoye Ree who captivated the audience with her powerful pieces themed around mental illness and soothing song selections from local artist Latoya Mullings. There was also a fashion show featuring designs by organizer Simone Walsh (Mo’knotic) and Phillip Clarke. The evening was a success, with the main highlights being an engaging and enlightening address from keynote speaker Michael A. Tibollo and a special guest appearance by Celina Caesar-Chavannes- MP for Whitby, who presented a plaque recognizing the work and contributions the charity has made to the community over the years.
Walsh says she hopes that attendees were able to take away a very important message from the gala.
“We wanted to get that message across that mental illness is something you can’t see. It does not discriminate and it does not pick who it will target,” she said. “We also wanted to encourage others to be supportive of a family member going through a mental illness and I think we accomplished that.”
Walsh also added that the next important step moving forward with the charity will be assisting individuals who have been incarcerated by creating support groups and mentorship programs.
“We find that the majority of these individuals do go through mental illness and sometimes they end up in that situation that they are in because of what they are going through,” she said. “We want to get to the root of that problem.”
“We also want to be there as somebody to help them get back on their feet after they have been released from prison and help to lead them in a right direction.”
Walsh mentioned that the charity is still growing and can use all the support they can get. The public can contribute in many ways through financial contributions, volunteering or even hosting an event or becoming an Essence of Mind partner organization. More details can be found on their website at www.myessenceofmind.org.