The Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Halifax/Dartmouth Branch is facing a serious budget shortfall and must raise $20,000 before May 31st to avoid ending the fiscal year in another deficit. This deficit will likely lead to major cut backs to social club hours in the coming year. While the Social Club Programs are fortunate to have the support of the United Way Halifax, Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, they still must raise every other penny to make ends meet.
The CMHA’s Halifax/Dartmouth programs are the only ones in the community that focus on social support, recreation and leisure for adults living with mental illness. Reducing the hours of operation of the social clubs will be detrimental to all who rely on these programs.
June Jollymore endured long hospitalizations after her diagnosis of borderline schizophrenia and manic depression at the age of 19, and later in life with manic depression and anxiety. She felt at times that suicide was her only way to escape it.
It was only after attending a social club program for adults living with mental illness — connecting with people experiencing the same struggles — that June says she felt free to be herself.
“I wish I’d known about the clubs sooner. Acceptance and a sense of belonging make a huge difference in a person’s life,” says June. “If I hadn’t found the club, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
But the social club programs that changed June’s life are in danger of being cut back due to a projected deficit in funding.
June’s children are all grown up and she says her friends at the social clubs are her lifeline. Once a membership is received, the clubs operate like a drop-in centre, where everyone’s welcome to come by and stay for as long as they’d like — whether it’s for half an hour or all afternoon.
Among Friends Social Club meets at the Dartmouth Senior Service Centre in Dartmouth (45 Ochterloney St.) and Sharing and Caring Social Club meets in Halifax (2020 Gottingen St.).
Adults living with mental illness — like June — can take part in gentle exercise, board games and card tournaments, crafting, movie nights, “no-bake” baking sessions, and group walks to Tim Hortons for coffee. They even work together to help organize and host special club events.
“It’s the only place where we can come to actually enjoy quality time with other people — without any judgment. There’s still a lot of stigma out there towards people like myself,” says June. “It’s changing the way we live — and changing the way we look at people with mental illness.”
The CMHA’s Halifax/Dartmouth programs are the only ones in the community that focus solely on social support, recreation and leisure for people living with mental illness.
While other programs and services have specific diagnosis requirements, CMHA social club coordinators believe in providing a safe, supportive space for anyone touched by mental health issues.
Without clubs like Sharing and Caring and Among Friends, June guesses she and her friends would resort to wandering around the city to try to find a safe space. More often than not, she says they’d end up isolating themselves by staying home alone.
“I used to be so withdrawn, but the clubs have helped me to open up and I enjoy talking now,” says June. “If the doors were to close, we would have nowhere to go. I’d be so depressed. I’d probably end up back in the hospital.”
Inspired by the positive, welcoming environment of the clubs, June enjoys using some of her time to work on her art. One of her coping skills is creating detailed mental health collages of words cut from magazines.
It takes her months to complete each collage on a sheet of bristol board, but she finds it soothing to surround herself with positive words that tell her story — and the stories of her friends living with mental illness.
“I turn the negative around by showing that we’re on a journey, and we’re getting there,” says June. “I always say ‘No matter what, never give up.’”