Café Coop Empowers People Struggling with Mental Health Through Art and Performance

Community Organization Promotes Safe Space and Community Feeling

  • Introducing some performers at Café Coop on Sept. 22, we have Rayana Speede on vocals! Photos Shannon Carranco

Café Coop is a relatively new grassroots organization that offers a safe haven for people experiencing mental health issues by providing an outlet for creative expression and social inclusion.

Founded in 2014 by Mathieu Bouchard and Mary Anne Levasseur, the Coop holds creative events at the Wellington Centre in Verdun. Every few months, the featured events consist of spoken word and acoustic nights, open to anyone and everyone who wants to participate.

Levasseur and Bouchard started Café Coop because they felt that when people experience breakdowns or mental health issues, they often don’t have a supportive community to rely on. Armed with that, the participants of Café Coop can begin to rebuild their self-esteem.

Stephanie Lawrence, a member of the Coop, joined after experiencing her first episode of psychosis. She was being treated at Douglas hospital, where Levasseur runs the family support group at the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychosis.
When Lawrence was experiencing her first episode, she felt that she didn’t have a supportive community to lean on.

DJ’ing the event, we have Stephanie Lawrence!

“At a really hard time in my life when I was followed at PEPP, I would pretty much just stay at home,” Lawrence explained, adding that she would rarely leave her house other than to check in with her psychiatrist.

“I didn’t really have that sense of community or connection,” she said. After reaching a certain point of her healing process, she knew that she needed to reach out—but wasn’t ready yet to return to work or school. “I needed to find the gap in the middle.”
That’s where Café Coop came in.

“It really helped me to come out of my shell and to connect to others who have had similar experiences and who are curious to share and spread awareness around mental health.”

“It really helped me to come out of my shell and to connect to others who have had similar experiences and who are curious to share and spread awareness around mental health.”

Psychologist Francine Beaudry explained that the benefits of being in a community are like finding a family again.

“As a child you usually get your basic needs from your family, but many people come from a toxic environment where they didn’t get enough of what they needed,” Beaudry said. “Being in a community is very important because, after a breakdown, you have to build up your self esteem again.” She also emphasized how crucial it is to know and feel that you are not alone in your experiences.

Eventually, the Coop would like to open a Café Co-operative that will provide employment opportunities for those who are transitioning from primary care to society.

“But in the meantime, we’re just trying to create a community from the ground up,” Lawrence said. With a prominent focus on creative expression and creating a socially inclusive space, the Coop is helping people develop the confidence to share and be grounded in their own experiences. “It’s definitely a process, it takes time, but that is how it is in life.”

The events held at the Wellington Centre in Verdun have a unique ambiance that performers and observers can enjoy together. Dimly lit, the vibe is warm and welcoming. Participants are encouraged to munch on finger food and share family recipes before the show starts. The performers are welcomed on and off stage with applause regardless of experience or expertise.

And finally, on the violin we have Torrey Eamon Owen!

Although the creative events offer participants a means of expression, Café Coop does not offer art therapy or any professional resources.
Dana Schnitzer, art therapist and psychotherapist, said making art is beneficial for building self-confidence because you are exteriorizing and materializing aspects of the self.

“Art-making is allowing the world of the unconscious to materialize by becoming more conscious,” Schnitzer said. “The more we are able to observe aspects of the self, the more choices we have, and then we can change our perspectives. By taking something from the inside and putting it on the outside in a material form, it allows us to easily change our perspective.”

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