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Combating Stigma Through Art

Stigma – in reality, prejudice and discrimination – is a constant struggle for those who live with mental illness and their families. And with stigma often comes isolation and feelings that you are alone in your journey. But LEARN, a program at CAMH, has found a way to combat both with an innovative program – a mixed media group called Create With Purpose.

And for more than a year, a group of  LEARN clients and families have laboured over a 10 foot by nine foot quilt entitled “Unraveling the Stigma of Schizophrenia One Stitch at a Time.” The patchwork represents the varied backgrounds and experiences of those whose hands assembled the quilt.

Quilt

“It’s been a beautiful journey. It has been so powerful,” says Vivian Del Valle, a social worker and family therapist at LEARN who started the group.

On Tuesday Oct. 8th, the quilt was unveiled with clients, staff and community partners gathered to celebrate.

The group encourages artistic expression and a safe place to talk about how mental illness has touched their lives. Between knitting and crocheting, painting, photography and poetry, group members share and bond, laugh and cry.

Stitch by stitch and square by square, feelings of pain, abandonment, anger and isolation subsided as the group worked to create a quilt which also expressed their hope.

“When you are working with your hands, healing magic happens” says Vivian.

This labour of love was not only the work of those who sat at the table. Members of the group were touched by the many knitted squares they received from CAMH staff and the broader community.

“It showed me that we need other people and the support from CAMH,” says Iveren Ahura, a client at LEARN. “And people who don’t even know me wanted to send a message to me that we are not alone.”

Iveren’s path to CAMH and the program at LEARN came through experience of spiraling into psychosis. The police got involved and she was hospitalized but she sees that as a necessary part of her journey. “Looking back, it was the best thing that happened to me because I got the treatment I needed, I didn’t deteriorate and for me, it led me to the program.”

It was at LEARN that Iveren found acceptance. “By going to the program, I have found myself supported and it has been very uplifting for me.” Instead of isolation, she found companionship. Instead of judgment, she found acceptance.

Elena Rios’s daughter Ana was diagnosed with schizophrenia a year ago. She was urged by Ana to join her in the group to work on the quilt project, albeit reluctantly at first. She spoke at the unveiling of the quilt about the importance of the project.

“Behind each knitted patch is a life,” she explains. “It is about coming together because we have similar experiences with mental illness and creating something to combat stigma.”

Elena treasures the time spent with her daughter working on the project. “I got to know a different part of her and I tried to better understand how she felt. It was also a way for me to show her I support her.”

Ana reiterates how important the group at LEARN has been for her. “For me, the project was liberating,” she explains. “It gave me and others the means to express ourselves through art, creating something that would make a difference in how people see mental illness.”

Proudly, she points out the patch she created alongside her mother and others who shared the pain of mental illness but also the hope of recovery. Her patch reads “I’m not alone.” And with her mother standing beside her, Ana knows she is not.
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