Making new friends and being involved in social activities can be difficult for a person living with mental illness. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common. Anna Quon profiles an organization helping to change that with a focus on having fun as a key part of being healthy.
People living with a mental illness sometimes become isolated from the supports of friends, family and community; but not Ruth Dorey. The Dartmouth resident and artist has been going to the Among Friends Social Club for social and leisure activities since 2001.
“It’s been a very life enhancing experience..."
“It’s been a very life enhancing experience, being involved,” says Ruth. “At least 50 per cent of my social life goes on there.”
Among Friends Social Club, a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association: Halifax-Dartmouth Branch, offers people living with mental illness social support, as well as opportunities for leisure and recreation. Staff do not offer counselling services. They do conduct in-house advocacy to build members’ confidence to access programs and services in the community.
The Club has a long history in downtown Dartmouth but in 2006, it moved to a temporary location at the Nova Scotia Hospital when a downtown location within the Club’s budget could not be found. Due to the stigma and negative associations attached to the hospital, program director Bev Cadham says, “We lost a significant percentage of our membership.”
Since moving back to a downtown Dartmouth location - a bright, newly-renovated former restaurant space with hardwood floors - many of the members have returned.
“It’s just a fun place to hang out,” says Bev. Staff treat members as equals, she says, sharing the responsibilities for cleaning and for conducting programs in house or in the community. Some members sit on the members' executive council, the board and other committees, but there is no pressure on anyone to participate in ways they are not comfortable with.
“It’s a joint ownership,” says Bev. “There’s no we or they…. It’s ‘our' club”
With an average age of 45 or 50, some members have been attending for over 25 years. Others attend while they are recovering from a bout of mental illness. Members come for the variety of activities including card games, dart games and tournaments, arts and crafts, bowling, monthly movie night and the regular dances shared with New Beginnings down the street. Most of all they come for the friendship of staff and other members.
“People really care about each other.”
According to Ruth, Among Friends Social Club lives up to its name. “We really are friends there,” she says. “People really care about each other.”
Contact Among Friends Social Club at :(902)463-2187 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Anna Quon
Anna is an accomplished freelance/creative writer and writing workshop facilitator. She lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She is passionate about many things, especially writing. It is through her writing, and her volunteer work with community organizations, that Anna honours the lives of people who, like her, are living with mental illness.
In 2008, Anna received the Inspiring Lives Award from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. In 2009, Anna published her first novel titled Migration Songs which was short listed for the Dartmouth Book Award.
Visit Anna's website.