For individuals living with mental illness and addictions issues, the diagnosis is an unwanted invitation to a disadvantaged and socially excluded population in society, experiencing stigmatization, poor housing opportunities, and low employment rates. Social programmes with untraditional approaches to helping mental health and addiction care consumers overcome barriers to effective living are essential in the rebuilding of fully productive, healthy and well-rounded lives.
Workman Arts provides individuals who have mental illness opportunities to engage in creative activities that develop their artistic strengths in accepting and supportive atmospheres. Through participation in artistic and collaborative projects that encourage the exchange of ideas between artist and observer, and the shared collective experience of audiences engaging in performances or works of art, connections are made between Workman Arts Members and the public at large and the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction is eroded.
Recurrent themes in Member feedback about the rewards of Workman Arts training programmes are: i) improved skill development, (ii) enjoyment of the classes, (iii) social benefits, (iv) improved health, (v) enhanced positive self-regard, (vi) improved motivation.
“[Workman Arts] has given me hope where there was none. Hope that I might be able to do something more with my life.”
“I’ve had experiences with other people and become more comfortable. In classes, I found myself more charged and motivated in a way I have seldom been before.”
“I feel in the middle of things instead of at the fringe.”
“If the art shows or classes are not offered, I may lose my incentive to continue to do art on a regular basis. Art gives me joy and sense of self.”
“In the past three weeks, I have experienced quite a bit of personal problems unrelated to Workman. The improv class helped me to get out of the blues when I was in the class. It was the only bright spot during the period.”
“The voice class provided a safe environment for self expression and growth…. I felt support of group.”
Individuals labeled with mental illness and addiction can come to see themselves as severely disabled, a perspective often reinforced by health care workers, family members, friends and society as a whole. Members of Workman Arts identify themselves as artists rather than as patients defined by their diagnosis, and develop a non-medicalized way to communicate their experiences.