Reprinted from "Stigma & Discrimination" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (6), p. 37
Open Minds Open Windows (OMOW) is a mental health services charity formed in Nanaimo in 2002. Its mission is to reduce the stigma and prejudice surrounding people with mental health issues. Its goal is to target two areas of stigma: the stigma that a person with a mental health issue holds and the stigma society holds.
I created the Open Minds Open Windows concept of how to reduce stigma while I was providing care for my son as he struggled with a mental health issue. I was already involved with one mental health organization. Then I developed a mental illness, which took me into a psychotic manic state, and my ideas about how to ﬁght against stigma became quite grandiose. When I came out of psychosis, I gathered together 11 hand-picked people, not all known by me. This group talked me into reducing my grandiose ideas, and then began creating ‘grandiose’ ideas of their own, which magically began to conform to my ideas and even expanded on some.
Mental illness touches almost every family in some manner, and not one of the 11 people I approached hesitated to become involved. They consist of two retired businessmen, four active business people, two people with knowledge of mental health issues, two musicians, and a still life artist. The 12 of us became the keystones of the organization, and as directors we all have handson involvement in each of the OMOW projects.
Our idea was to use the arts and humanities as an avenue of approach to deal with stigma. What has been accomplished to date is the production of two annual concerts in Nanaimo’s 800-seat theatre. Both received standing ovations from full houses.
The ﬁrst concert, in 2004, presented six mental health stories, using local professional actors to act out scenes while local professional dancers also interpreted the stories. The stories were interspersed among performances by professional musicians, which were interpreted on canvas by a visual artist.
The concert in 2005 replaced dramatizations with poetry readings, and closed with a two-song ﬁnale performed by Beautiful Minds, a choir comprising 18 people with mental health issues. The choir was conducted by a musician who had been so moved by the 2004 concert that he volunteered to form this choir. Beautiful Minds has since been invited to take part in an annual fair held in Nanaimo’s south end and has two other gigs lined up as well.
Open Minds Open Windows also uses approaches other than the arts to ﬁght stigma. The organization showcases people with mental health issues at a variety of community events. The Nanaimo mental health centre’s Day Program participants painted rocks and sold them during Nanaimo’s Bathtub Race festival. We entered a ﬂoat in the local Empire Day parade and won ﬁrst prize in its category. We’ve played ball with the local RCMP and taken on local Junior ‘B’ BC hockey champions. People with mental health issues have taken part in two psychology forums organized by OMOW at the local campus. And, a 17-song CD was created with 16 professional musicians who donated their songs; Day Program participants wrote and recorded the 17th song.
New initiatives include a special project with a local, renowned First Nations carver who is teaching not only his carving skills, but also his holistic view of life, to four people with mental health issues. A contract with GO Rowing and Paddling Association of Canada has begun, with two one-and-a-half-hour paddling sessions held each week for the next four months. Each canoe, capable of holding 24 people, will provide exercise and socialization for those who do not wish to compete. For those who enjoy competition, a team will be created to take part in the Dragon Boat Festival in Nanaimo from July 8 to 10. Other projects are in the works.
While there is much still to do, OMOW has made signiﬁcant strides in its short three-year history. We recognize that there are many people in our society who are willing to assist with projects, and as each event is held, more opportunities present themselves and more people in the community respond.
About the Author
Ron is Chair of the Nanaimo Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee, Director of the Nanaimo branch of BC Schizophrenia Society, and the founder and Co-Chair of Open Minds Open Windows. Ron is diagnosed as bipolar