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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Unravelling stigma one stitch at a time

Knitting group at CAMH’s LEARN program is bringing clients, families and the community together in support of mental health

May 16, 2016 - A first episode of psychosis can be distressing for the whole family. In recognition of this, CAMH’s Learning Employment Advocacy Recreation Network (LEARN), invites clients and their families to come together, learn about mental illness and reconnect through knitting.

The knitting group began in 2013 as a recreational activity promoting mindfulness.

“Knitting, by nature, encourages a person to focus on the task at hand,” explained Vivian Del Valle, Social Worker at LEARN. “And what’s special about this group, is that we invite both clients and their families to participate. The interaction is amazing to see and has such a positive impact on both recovery and understanding of mental illness.”

Ana, a client at CAMH, and her mother Elena have experienced this first hand. Ana first came to LEARN in 2014 having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. “I thought about, and still think about, what I can do to support my daughter in her recovery,” Elena said. “I’ve had to adjust for her, and joining this knitting group together was the right decision.”

Ana and ElenaAna and Elena continue to attend the knitting group regularly. Pictured here (L to R): Knitting group member Manmohan; Vivian Del Valle; Jennifer Brum, Department Secretary at LEARN; Elena and Ana.

“Learning about the illness is so important,” Vivian explained. “I’ve found that the recovery journey is smoother when the family is involved in the process.”

A visual representation of hope and resilience

For Mental Health Week in 2013, CAMH clients and their families were invited to stitch patches featuring messages about stigma surrounding mental illness. “The response was overwhelming. We created a huge quilt, which now hangs at the entrance of LEARN,” Vivian said.

Quilt made by clients and their familiesA quilt made by clients and their families, titled ‘Unraveling the stigma of schizophrenia one stitch at a time.’

The next year, another quilt was made, this time with messages of encouragement from family members, titled ‘Family matters.’ “Both of these quilts are visual representations of resilience and of hope,” Vivian added.

Community integration and the latest knitting group project

In 2015, LEARN partnered with the Toronto Public Library, knitting over-sized bookmarks that share positive messages about mental health.

“These bookmarks answer the question: ‘What helps me with my mental health?’” Vivian explained. “The point is that mental health is important to everyone. This is a way to break down any lasting stigma.”

Knitted bookmarksDozens of knitted bookmarks are on display at LEARN for the month of May.

The St. Clair/Silverthorn branch was first to participate, and since then, these bookmarks have travelled to six public libraries across the city. “It’s powerful to have these messages on display in a public setting,” Vivian added. “And what’s been especially amazing to see, is the public’s response.”

At each library, patrons are invited to sign a guest book where they can share what helps their mental health, or simply comment on the bookmark art installation. “I’ve read so many messages of identification, of hope. People have thanked us for doing this,” said Vivian.

What began as recreation has grown into something much more, and today, the CAMH LEARN knitting group is playing an important role in spreading awareness and eroding stigma surrounding mental illness.

“I’m very happy to see the discussion surrounding mental illness taking place in the public,” Elena expressed. “LEARN and the knitting group here, for me, is a second home.”

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