Living with Mental Illness and Addiction conference takes place today; focuses on first voice perspective


SYDNEY, N.S. – Using the first voice perspective as a way to reduce stigma and increase knowledge is the focus of this year’s Living with Mental Illness and Addiction conference.

This year’s conference will be held on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in two locations: the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in Sydney and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 59, 75 St. Ninian’s Street in Antigonish. While the conference will primarily take place in Sydney, two portions of the conference will take place in Antigonish, and will be live streamed to the audience in Sydney.

Each year, there are about 600 conference attendees, including individuals living with mental illness and/or addiction, their families, representatives from community agencies and the general public. This event is the largest of its kind in the region.

Wendy Bergfeldt, host of CBC Radio’s Mainstreet Cape Breton, serves as the event’s MC and will facilitate a panel discussion on substance use and stigma in the community. She will be joined by speakers in both Sydney and Antigonish. Sydney speakers include Garry Leech, Karen Campbell and Keith Anderson. Antigonish speakers include Gavin Quinn, Tom Curry, Rachel Power and the Park Bench Players (see full bios below). 

The Dr. M.A. Mian Award will also be presented during the conference. This award honours groups or individuals for the impact they have had on the lives of people living with mental illness and addiction.

For those unable to attend, the entire conference will be livestreamed at

Speaker Bios (Sydney)

Garry Leech is a journalist and author who worked as a war correspondent in Colombia for 13 years as well as in Venezuela, Cuba and the West Bank. In 2016, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His latest book Ghosts Within: Journeying Through PTSD reveals the long-term costs of violence and war and describes the realities of living with a mental illness.

Karen Campbell became passionate about mental health issues eight years ago after her teenage daughter was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In June 2015, she was one of 36 Canadian citizens selected to serve on the citizen’s reference panel for the mental health action plan in Ottawa. The purpose of the panel was to work toward a set of shared recommendations to improve issues concerning mental health and mental illness in Canada. She speaks from a parent’s perspective. Learning your child has a mental illness can be very overwhelming, watching your child live with a mental illness isn’t easy. It's tough.

Keith Anderson is a lawyer who had depression. He first went public with his depression 11 years ago with an article in the National Post, called How I Returned to a Life Worth Living. Since then, Keith has spoken at national mental health conferences, legal conferences, universities, and fundraisers. He has also served on numerous boards of directors and committees for mental health non-profit groups. His articles have appeared in publications for the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, the Canadian Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. A few years ago, he put all of his work under the brand Worth Living Mental Health Consulting. Worth Living offers a blog, podcasts, conferences and is now delivering online courses. Keith is also the Cape Breton lead for the Canadian Mental Health Association Nova Scotia division.

Speaker Bios (Antigonish)

Gavin Quinn is the founder of the Outsider Insight Project, a national non-profit organization that is run by and for people with mental illness and those who have been affected by mental illness. It promotes awareness of issues facing those living with mental illness and that advocates for understanding and acceptance. A peer based model is shown to be highly effective for both artists learning new skills and for mental health consumers sharing strategies promoting wellness. About two years ago, he connected with Mike Francis which help grow the Outsider Insight project and move it to a new level.

Tom Curry, music therapist, has provided individual and group-based music therapy services at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, arranged through the Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) community collaboration. More recently, he brought his talents to the youth health centres at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School and East Antigonish Education Centre and Academy. The introduction of music therapy has contributed to positive outcomes for patients, students, families and staff.  According to Curry, some have said that music therapy has provided a way to "engage people socially, re-introduce them to positive coping, build self-esteem, and encourage participation in activities of daily living." Others have found that it has provided adults living with cognitive impairment with a way to reconnect to memories and abilities of their past - an effect that has been therapeutic and has offered much comfort to some patients in their last weeks of life. The addition of this service has been a powerful and transformative enhancement across the continuum of care.

Rachel Power has been the artist in residence at St. Martha's Regional Hospital for the past three years, . Her passion for the arts, education and community health are what attracted her to Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!). Rachel grew up in Antigonish, but lived in different parts of the Canada and the world before returning to Nova Scotia nine years ago. Much of her studies have revolved around education and the arts. In 2015, she completed a Masters of Education in Visual Arts Education from St. FX University.  As well as being the artist in residence at St. Martha's, she is the arts coordinator for Antigonish Culture Alive, the local arts council and the creative director of The Arts House. She also teaches the curriculum and instruction in the Visual Arts course in the Department of Teacher Education at St. FX.

The Park Bench Players theatre troupe, based in Antigonish began in 2011 to increase mental health literacy, reduce stigma and discrimination and bring the topic of life with mental illness out of the darkness and into the light of daily conversations. The cast members live with chronic and persistent mental illness and get on stage to share their messages in a script created from their ‘first-voice’, lived experience. The Park Bench Players have performed to audiences across Nova Scotia and as far west as Vancouver for the 2012 Psychosocial Rehabilitation Canada national conference. To date, they have presented 99 shows to approximately 12,000 audience members and are dedicated to keep the show on the road for an upcoming special feature marking the troupe’s 100th show.

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