Reducing the stigma associated with mental illness through the arts


When internationally-acclaimed Canadian musician, Chantal Kreviazuk, shared her connection with mental illness at the Imagine Film Festival hosted by Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (OntarioShores), her message of acceptance helped the audience gain insight into the harmful effects of stigma.

With one in four people affected by mental illness, the associated stigma can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to seek treatment and, in some cases, lead to devastating outcomes such as self-harm or suicide.

OntarioShoresdetermined in its strategic goals that awareness and understanding of mental illness is an essential part of recovery, and developed the program Creative Minds: Raising Awareness and Reducing Stigma through the Arts, based around art, film and music, to bring people together in support of mental health awareness. This initiative recently won an Ovation Award of Excellence from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) –Toronto.

The Imagine Film Festival, which runs every October to recognize Mental Illness Awareness Week, is one component of Creative Minds. It consists of a series of thought provoking feature films and documentaries that aim to demystify mental illness and provide an opportunity for the community to come together with a shared interest in film.

Speakers who have supported Imagine, include singer/songwriters Chantal Kreviazuk and Matthew Good, and actor Joe Pantoliano. All shared how mental illness and stigma have affected their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

“The most popular boy in the neighbourhood had been ostracized because of stigma,” said Kreviazuk of her first love Samuel, and as he battled his illness, she remained open and tolerant. “I don’t really see (acceptance) as something intrinsic in me, but it genuinely comes from education, which is why I’m here.” Sadly Samuel ended his life at age 21, and Kreviazuk describes his death as unnecessary, preventable and a waste.

Suicide is an all too common reality of the affect stigma can have on a person suffering from mental illness. According to a 2008 study by Kinark Child and Family Services, 38 per cent of parents of children with mental illness indicated they would not seek help for their children because of stigma even though early diagnosis and treatment is essential in building a solid foundation for a bright future.

“OntarioShoreshosts a number of events, activities and programs to raise awareness about mental health,” says Glenna Raymond, President and CEO,OntarioShores. “We all have an important role to play in addressing the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.  With our combined efforts, we can positively affect change.”

In July, more than 1,500 staff, patients and community members gathered on the grounds at OntarioShoresto enjoy the Mindful Music Concert, another component of Creative Minds. Music has the power to bring people together and throughout the day bands such as Hollerado, Done With Dolls andJarvisChurch entertained a crowd of all ages, races, ethnicities and health-related issues.

The event also reached hundreds of youth, which was an important objective as 70 per cent of mental illnesses have their onset during childhood and adolescence.

Creative Minds also supports a Let’s Talk Speaker Series and Art Program to connect our communities, encourage open dialogue and share diverse educational programming to promote mental health awareness. Guest speakers have included author Ned Vizzini; former CFL Hall-of-Famer, Terry Evanshen; and Olympic Gold Medalist, Greg Louganis.

To date, Creative Minds has been successful in directly engaging more than 7,500 people, and indirectly so many more through social media and media coverage. It has also provided an excellent opportunity forOntarioShores to partner with other hospitals, organizations, schools and government agencies to educate people about the harmful effects of stigma and unite our community in an environment that is free from race, religion, socioeconomic status or mental health barriers.

Visit for more information about the 2011 Imagine Film Festival and this year’s guest speaker.