Back Then: A Community Grant Providing Much More than Music Therapy

Back Then: A Community Grant Providing Much More than Music Therapy

A dozen young people from the Chester area interviewed residents of Shoreham Village long term-care facility. The result? A catchy music video that compares life back then to what it’s like today. This project is proudly funded through our 2018-19 Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia Community Grant program and is changing the way people think about mental illness and dementia.

Swany's Challenge: A Legacy of Adventure

Jonathan David Cosman was the kind of guy who lived for the great outdoors.

Jonathan “Swany” Cosman

Jonathan “Swany” Cosman

“He always wanted to go outside,” remembers his brother Justin. “He was never one of those guys who wanted to stay indoors… He was always outside wanting to do stuff in the yard; building stuff.”

Known to his friends as Swany, Jon had a knack for making something out of nothing. He and his brother would gather up supplies on the spring clean-up garbage day to build go-karts, and other inventions. He liked the snow so much he created a snow machine to extend the season and built a chair lift of sorts in his front yard for all the neighbourhood kids’ sleds.

“He loved to ski,”says his aunt Dawn McCormack. “He almost built his own ski hill in the front yard and ski jump so that he could practice his ski jumping…”

“In the summer,” adds Justin. “He liked skiing so much he built this wooden platform… that goes down off the higher level of the deck and he put this material on it so he could ski on it in the summer and practice jumping and stuff.”

Jon struggled with mental illness and addiction. On March 26th this year, at the age of 26, he died as a result of an accident precipitated by his illness.

Outdoor and adventure-based therapies were an important part of Jon’s treatment. Knowing how much he enjoyed it, his family wanted to create an adventure-based therapy program for male-identified young adults living with mental illness and addiction. Swany’s Challenge was born.

“Jon’s parents, Lauren and Michael, felt it would be really nice if they could help at least one other person through some kind of positive experience like Swany’s Challenge,” says Dawn.

Swany’s Challenge is an adventure therapy experience aimed at supporting young adults living with mental illness and addiction. The multi-day therapeutic wilderness paddling expedition will be led by a certified guide and counselor. It will provide participants the means to reconnect with themselves and the natural world while bonding with others who share similar life challenges.

“Around a campfire you share stories and connect with people differently than you would just hanging out in a regular setting,” says Justin. “So I think that lends to the experience that they’ll have, with not just the counselor, but people going through the same thing… so they’ll be able to relate to people and build connections and a support group for themselves.”

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to launch Swany’s Challenge as its newest Named Grant. Building a legacy of adventure in memory of Jonathan Cosman while providing hope and support to the countless Nova Scotians who will undoubtedly benefit from Swany’s Challenge.

Click here to make a donation or learn more about Swany’s Challenge.

Mental Health First Aid Community Grant at Work in Our Community

This feature story has been written by Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia summer student, Laura Dauphinee. We thank Laura for sharing her time, talent and typing to help us change the way people think!

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“We wouldn’t have been able to train our volunteers without this Community Grant.”
 – Hinchinbrook Farm Society

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to partner with St. John Ambulance Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to offer a Community Grant for Nova Scotians looking to improve their knowledge of mental health and addictions through the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program. MHFA is the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved. The MHFA Canada program aims to improve mental health literacy, and provide the skills and knowl­edge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or a colleague.

Volunteers from Hinchinbrook Farm at MHFA training

Volunteers from Hinchinbrook Farm at MHFA training

“Often times, mental health problems are not easily understood,” says Diana Parks, Director of Learning at St. John Ambulance NS & PEI, “MHFA teaches people that mental health problems are more prevalent than we think. It teaches us to provide that first help for someone and then guide that person towards professional help.”

MHFA was first developed at the Australian National University in 2001. The program has grown to be offered in 25 countries around the globe – including Canada in 2007. Since then, MHFA has trained over 400,000 participants within 14,000 organizations in Canada alone!

Carol Rolfe-Higney, President of Hinchinbrook Farm, recently received a Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia MHFA Community Grant. It allowed twelve members of her organization to take basic MHFA training. Hinchinbrook is a non-profit organization, whose prime objective is to provide a therapeutic horseback riding program to support the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of persons with disabilities. “We work with children with autism, as well as families who bring in children with disabilities and a variety of mental health issues,” says Rolfe-Higney. “This course really helps us to engage with the children and identify specific things we’re worried about with the children.”

Rolfe-Higney also commented on how well-taught the program was. “I thought it was really good. It was taught at a level where everyone was able to retain and understand the information. Both younger and older people took the course, and everyone was able to understand and apply what they learned very easily.”

If you, or your organization, is interested in applying to our Community Grant to receive Mental Health First Aid, visit For more information on the numerous courses offered by our friends at St. John Ambulance NS & PEI, visit

Marilyn's Story

Marilyn Bright, Nursing School Graduation Photo

Marilyn Bright, Nursing School Graduation Photo

Electroconvulsive therapy or ECT is one of the most controversial and misunderstood treatments for mental illness. It’s a safe and effective treatment for severe depression when patients have symptoms that haven't responded to medication, counselling or other psychosocial treatments. It is also used to treat mania and schizophrenia in people with an acute illness and to maintain their improvement.

Our Let’s Keep Talking Outstanding Healthcare Provider is very aware of that. Marilyn Bright has been working in mental health since graduating from the Nova Scotia Hospital School of Nursing in 1964. 

For the last several decades she has been working in the ECT Department, which provides up to 3500 treatments per year. 

Marilyn recognizes this treatment can be especially anxiety provoking for patients and families given the stigma surrounding it.  She is always the first to put patients at ease with reasoned answers to their many questions.  Needless to say, this is extremely helpful and reassuring. 

Marilyn’s nominator recalls one specific example when a 14-year-old patient was referred to ECT as the treatment of last resort for intrusive and disabling symptoms.  Both parents were understandably distraught and concerned. Before the procedure took place, Marilyn sat with them in a quiet corner of the chapel. They were soon calm, relaxed, and comfortable with moving forward. They were completely reassured by Marilyn’s words which were framed by her many years of experience. The treatment outcome was very favourable, and both parents continue to credit the compassionate discussion with Marilyn as a major motivator in their child’s treatment course.

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to present Marilyn Bright with the 2019 Let’s Keep Talking Award for Outstanding Healthcare Provider. Congratulations, Marilyn.

Sarah's Story

Sarah Rahr snuggling with her sister Beth as children

Sarah Rahr snuggling with her sister Beth as children

Sarah and Beth Rahr were born almost ten years apart, but don’t let the decade of difference in age dissuade you. Sarah walked beside her sister Beth from the moment she was born.

When Beth was diagnosed with mental illness, Sarah became her biggest cheerleader, protector and advocate.

As a child, Sarah loved and included Beth with all of her friends.  As adults, they spent much time together – going to Special Olympics practices, fundraising for L’Arche at the Mooseheads hockey games, going to see Beth’s favourite group The Wiggles, dancing, skating, visiting yard sales, taking road trips, going to the beach and reading Beth’s favourite book, The Wind in the Willows. Suffice it to say, if you knew Sarah, you knew Beth. 

Beth and Sarah Rahr

Beth and Sarah Rahr

In 2009, Beth became a resident at Emerald Hall in the Nova Scotia Hospital. This unit is dedicated to patients with a dual diagnosis (both a mental illness and a mental disability). Sarah visited Beth two to three times a week for hours at a time, amusing her with a whole cast of characters and voices that Beth so loved. There was the old fisherman who lived at the cottage and the sophisticated woman from Paris who ran a salon. Sarah even taught Beth a few phrases in French through her creative play.

To Sarah, Beth was smart, caring, joyful, creative, generous, compassionate and sweet. Words that would also describe Sarah.

Sadly, Beth passed away late last year. In the end, Sarah used every kind of vacation, sick and family-related leave available to her – and also took unpaid leave – to be by Beth’s side.

All of us at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia were so very fortunate to know Beth and enjoy her visits to our office. Sarah – we miss her, and we thank you for sharing her with all of us.

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to present Sarah Rahr with the 2019 Let’s Keep Talking Award for Outstanding Caregiver. Congratulations, Sarah.

Judi's Story

Judi Quann  Let’s Keep Talking 2019 Outstanding Senior

Judi Quann

Let’s Keep Talking 2019 Outstanding Senior

If you walk down the ninth floor of Northwood Manor, you’ll discover an art display. One painting stands out: a large white schooner set amidst dark skies and white-capped waters. Judi Quann describes it as a metaphor for her life.

Judi Quann has overcome many challenges with mental illness and addiction to get to where she is today. Her first husband struggled with mental illness upon returning from service in Bosnia which led to her own experience with depression and their divorce. Her second marriage ended abruptly when her family detected signs of mental distress.

When Judi arrived at Northwood three years ago, she was encouraged to take advantage of the services offered through her Mental Health & Wellness Support program. Proudly funded by the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, Seeds of Success helps residents living with mental illness find balance in all aspects of life through weekly programming.

Now Judi paints so much that she has brightened the hallway for residents and staff. She also continually makes time for her fellow seniors. Despite her exhausting tri-weekly dialysis treatments, Judi goes out of her way to help others

 “I don’t think about it. Honestly, I don’t,” says Judi. “Sometimes it’s just a quick help and other times it’s a hug or whatever. Once I know they’re ok, I just get on with other stuff.”

Once caught in a storm, Judi has emerged stronger, full of creativity and more compassionate than ever before. She continues to inspire others with her positive outlook and resiliency every day.

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to present Judi Quann with the 2019 Let’s Keep Talking Award for Outstanding Senior. Congratulations, Judi!

Jessie’s Story

“I know it feels like the end of the world, but it’s not.
If I can get better, I promise you can, too.”
— Jessie Cullum, Let's Keep Talking 2019 Outstanding Youth

Jessie Cullum is a bright and dedicated grade twelve student at Charles P. Allen High School. She’s a prominent member of the school’s Health Action and Jack.Org committee, a national organization that aims to decrease stigma and increase learning around mental health. In the summer, she has the idyllic job of a lifeguard at Bedford Lions Pool. Recently, Jessie helped organize a week-long mental health event at her school driven by a passion to eradicate stigma surrounding mental illness, because Jessie herself lives with Bipolar Disorder.

If things had played out differently, this mental health event would not have happened. Just two years ago, Jessie attempted to end her own life. Since that day she has worked tirelessly to manage her symptoms all the while helping create a mental health movement within her school community. Working with her fellow members, Jessie has helped organize a Mental Health Week featuring speakers, workshops and activities. She continually advocates for the appropriate use of language about mental illness, and encourages others to further their understanding of mental disorders.

“Jessie will continue to do amazing work in the field of mental health as she graduates from high school,” says Charles P. Allen Youth Health Centre Coordinator Jenn Richardson. “But the work she has started here will undoubtedly continue with the inspiration she has given her fellow classmates.”

When asked what she would say to a 14 or 15 year old struggling to manage a mental illness, Jessie says "I know it feels like the end of the world, but it's not. If I can get better, I promise you can, too."

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to present Jessie Cullum with the 2019 Let’s Keep Talking Award for Outstanding Youth. Congratulations, Jessie.

Elsie's Story

You just have to persevere through it and NEVER give up
— Elsie Morden, Let's Keep Talking 2019 Outstanding Individual
Elsie Morden  Let’s Keep Talking 2019 Outstanding Individual

Elsie Morden

Let’s Keep Talking 2019 Outstanding Individual

Going into her grade eleven year, Elsie Morden was ‘sucker-punched’ by another girl from her school. After the assault, Elsie found she could no longer hold in her feelings and began writing. She taught herself how to play the guitar and then combined her creative talents to produce several songs based on her experiences.

Determined to be a role model for the next, Elsie united her music, her story, and her passion into one presentation: No Time For That (NTFT). After the first show, she was overwhelmed by the gratitude of her audience. That was when she knew her anti-bullying presentation would not be a one-time occurrence.

Today, Elsie has turned her motivational message into a registered charity, No Time for That Anti-Bullying Society. Since 2012, she has visited more than 600 schools across Canada empowering more than half a million youth through story and song. Elsie has been named one of 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and is a youth ambassador for Kids Help Phone. She is a past performer at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s A Different Stage of Mind and a 2017 Community Grant recipient.

 Elsie’s message to those suffering with mental illness comes from a place of understanding, "It’s okay to not be okay. You're going to have really bad days, but you're also going to have really good days and those days are worth fighting for. It's so important to focus on the positives and what you love to do, even though that's hard sometimes. You have to keep remembering why you are fighting, and focus on them. Surround yourself with the people who accept you for who you are, who are going to support your dreams, and who will care for and love you. Don't let people or things bring you down even though that will be hard sometimes. You just have to persevere through it and NEVER give up."

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to present Elsie Morden with the 2019 Let’s Keep Talking Award for Outstanding Individual. Congratulations, Elsie!

Maggie's Story

Portrait of Maggie from her 24karatrealtor blog

Portrait of Maggie from her 24karatrealtor blog

MAGGIE MACGILLIVRAY is the picture of a strong, professional woman. She’s a single mom of three, runs an ambitious, all women real estate team, owns investment properties, her dream home and has a killer wardrobe to boot. She’s the epitome of success and she also lives with mental illness.

“My entire life I’ve suffered crippling anxiety,” reveals MacGillivray. “I missed a lot of my high school years because of it. It limited me in a lot of ways. I didn’t drive for many years. I also dealt with eating disorders and I didn’t talk to anyone about it because I felt I had to hide it.”

Three years ago Maggie decided enough was enough. She confronted her demons head-on. She showed up in tears at her mother’s apartment with her three children and a blow-up mattress determined to begin living the life she knew she deserved.

Today MacGillivray is a successful real estate agent with Royal LePage and manages the all-female team, Golden Realty Group. She shares her story of awakening and resiliency through her honest and candid blog, 24 Karat Realtor. It’s a message she’ll be taking to the stage on March 15, 2019 as part of A Different Stage of Mind in support of The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.

Maggie says her involvement has allowed her to open up a conversation she didn’t know she needed to have, with an audience she didn’t know she had. Since revealing her own experience with anxiety and eating disorders, numerous people have confided in her about their own struggles. MacGillivray says that has opened her eyes to how much work still needs to be done to change the way people think and shed the stigma associated with mental illness.

“Disorders like these get much worse in the dark.
The more we can talk about, the easier it is to heal.”
— Maggie MacGillivray

When asked how she’s feeling about her singing debut, she admits she’s quite nervous but is choosing to look at it through a positive lens. It’s an outlook she’s adopted since walking through adversity and coming out stronger on the other side. She hopes facing her fears head-on will allow others to see that living with a mental illness isn’t a weakness, it’s a sign of strength.

“If someone who deals with social anxiety can throw on a wig and get on a stage in front of hundreds of people, I think it will show people they have great capacity to overcome and deal with their struggles.”

An attitude of perseverance indicative of a strong and capable woman who’s not only committed to building a real estate empire, but a community of support for those living with mental illness.