By Starr Cunningham
For the last five years, the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia has been honouring Nova Scotians who live well with mental illness and addictions at our annual Let’s Keep Talking event. Throughout the year we host many special gatherings, but this one is definitely one of my favourites.
In the past, we’ve had the privilege of hosting national mental health advocates such as Clara Hughes, Michael Landsberg, Margaret Trudeau and Lt-General the Honourable Romeo Dallaire (Ret’d). This year we are thrilled to be welcoming Steven Page from the Barenaked Ladies.
Page is fresh off the Juno stage where he performed with his former bandmates and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Having introduced Page at a mental health event several years ago in Sydney, I know he will strike a chord with our audience as he talks about his own personal battle with mental illness and sings some of his well-known and loved hit songs.
The other part of our evening that inspires, focuses on our award recipients. The Foundation will honour Nova Scotians in five categories: Outstanding Individual, Outstanding Youth, Outstanding Senior, Outstanding Caregiver and Outstanding Healthcare Provider. These role models come from different areas of Nova Scotia, yet share a common passion — to help change the way people think about mental illness and addictions in our province.
On the evening of May 8 at Halifax’s Spatz Theatre, we will celebrate their accomplishments together. In keeping with Mental Health Week, our Let’s Keep Talking event will recognize there are far more Nova Scotians living successful, productive, full lives with mental illness than not.
Our event, presented by our friends at Bell Let’s Talk, will educate, entertain and inspire. It’s also open to the public, free of charge! A few years ago we were determined to make this event accessible to all, so we connected with a group of generous sponsors. This year along with Bell Let’s Talk, we have the support of the J&W Murphy Foundation, The Carleton, Emera, Blinkhorn Real Estate Ltd, Northwood Intouch and Dalhousie University’s Department of Psychiatry. We truly mean it when we say, we couldn’t make this celebration happen without their tremendous support.
This year’s Outstanding Senior recipient is 71-year-old Clark Paul. Clark is the cultural support worker at Eskasoni First Nation. A residential school survivor who endured physical, sexual and emotional abuse during his childhood, Clark now uses his own personal experiences to help others. After being discharged from school, Clark turned to drugs, attempted suicide and often found himself homeless. His nominators say he could have become a statistic, but instead he chose a traditional path to healing, wholeness and wellness.
Clark says he took control of his addictions and mental health by turning back to his culture and roots, restoring himself through the use of Mi’kmaw ways and medicines. He also furthered his education by completing a baccalaureate degree at Cape Breton University.
Today, he regularly conducts sweats and traditional teachings at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility and the Nova Institution for Women in Truro. He presents to university students, First Nation and non-First Nation schools, holds regularly scheduled youth and adult sweat lodge and pipe ceremonies, as well as providing support to other residential school survivors during their independent assessment hearings.
Clark is also a trainer for mental health first aid for First Nations and assists with several community-based research initiatives including Spaces and Places, the Networks for Change Sexual Violence Initiative and ACCESS Open Minds.
When asked why he works so hard to make a difference in his community, Clark’s answer is simple: “I see the struggles in the faces of people each and every day.”
Clark is optimistic our youth will have enough education to become our leaders of tomorrow. “I believe they can make life better in our communities,” says Clark.
Despite a recent cancer diagnosis, Clark continues to greet each day with hope and inspiration living his life according to the Seven Sacred Teachings – wisdom, truth, humility, bravery, honesty, love and respect.
All of us at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia are incredibly proud of Clark Paul’s dedication to changing the way people think. We hope you can join us on May 8 as we pay tribute to his remarkable accomplishments and those of our other Bell Let’s Talk presents Let’s Keep Talking award recipients; Juanna Ricketts (Outstanding Individual), Christene Southwell (Outstanding Youth), Dr. Linda Courey (Outstanding Healthcare Provider) and Bev Fletcher (Outstanding Caregiver). Oh, and don’t forget, the amazingly talented Steven Page!
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