Have you noticed that health and wellness seem to be two disconnected thoughts in society? There is health, you go to doctors for that. Then there is wellness, which can mean anything from Himalayan salt crystals to deep psychological counselling. And while we talk a good game about “getting the help we need,” so many of us put off actually doing it. There are big stigmas and shame attached to needing help. And then, once we finally decide to get help, where to begin? Is it a purely medical or health problem? Is it more of a wellness thing? What if it’s both?
The Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing is determined to change the way we access wellness. In particular, the Foundation is focused on changing the accessibility of wellness information and health resources. Their mission is to fill the gaps in mental health, mental wellness, and mental illness representation and they offer a host of programs including their series of Open-Minded Chats with the Calgary Public Library. In the free (and currently online) chats, researchers and community leaders are invited to share their work on specific topics.
Recently, the Perlin Foundation hosted an Open Minded Chat titled “Developing Empathy Toward the Mental Health Challenges Behind Addiction,” led by neuroscientist Dr. Ty McKinney. (You may know Dr. Ty ‘the Neuro Guy’ from our article on Burnout and Kindness or from his upcoming webinar hosted by SeeKindness and 8 Bit Cortex, Be Kind to Your Mind.)
In the presentation, Dr. McKinney explained how depression, anxiety and ADHD can lead to addiction. He invited audience members to understand the underlying neuroscience of addiction to help develop an empathetic perspective of those with substance abuse. Critical work during this opioid epidemic.
The Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing invites conversations like Dr. McKinney’s to create more openness and dialogue around the broader perspective of wellness. In Stacey Perlin’s (the chairperson of the foundation) words, “We need to have access to services outside of a crisis and outside of a referral.”
Stacey explains the Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing is known for being “conversation curators and ecosystem connectors.” Another initiative the foundation has taken on is the Map of the Ecosystem. It is a massive resource of public services and organizations that support health and wellness in Calgary. Stacey describes the ecosystem as “a way to bridge social services that all have different mandates and how they align in a broader scope.” For example, the ecosystem can show “how Canada’s main health organization aligns with the World Health Organization, placemaking policies in city development, and public health models.” Aligning these organizations can help health authorities create specific services that directly support the people they serve.
As an artist with a background in film and television, as well as communications, Stacey sees arts and culture as vehicles to increase mental health literacy, especially for underserved communities. “We demonstrate how arts and culture go hand in hand with our mental health,” Stacey proudly states. Growing up, Stacey had a “love affair with interpretive centers, museums, and libraries.” When she started the Foundation, she realized, “There was a way we could combine those designs and communicate health information in a way that’s entertaining.”
One of the Foundation’s upcoming events is a mental wellness festival, Spring Bliss, a free event for learning about brain health, celebrating local art and artists, and partnering with aligned organizations. Stacey is passionate about placemaking, an approach that centers community and shapes the public realm to maximize shared value.
Stacey explains, “You don’t start a festival by blocking off a street and moving people to the side of the road.” Instead, Stacey argues, “We can do better. There is a way to get people involved, present, and engaged. We learn from other interpretive centers, like the Head Smashed In Buffalo Center. They transport us to a moment in time and inspire us to explore those worlds more deeply.” For Stacey, community connections are key to promoting wellness, another reason why placemaking is so integral to the festival. “We can showcase local arts and culture holistically and in a way that promotes city-building,” Stacey explains.
The Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing also hosts a monthly meetup for artists to check-in and discuss mental health. The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, especially artists, who often work in public spaces. Stacey loves the monthly meetup and calls it a “wonderful act of kindness to be a part of a community that supports each other.”
As an artist who struggles with chronic health conditions as well as chronic pain, Stacey’s story is one of transformation. “When I got sick, I wanted to tell my story in such a way that it would do the most good possible,” Stacey explains. “I had this thing I was dragging around with me, and I realized it was my health. Most of us treat our health as our first car. We tend to run it down to the ground and then wonder why we’re feeling tired all the time.” Changing the narrative she was telling herself around health and wellness and making it a priority was a massive turnaround. “I realized I had to make amends with my body,” she says.
However, Stacey found that there wasn’t enough information available, especially before her health was in crisis. With health and wellness so disconnected, wellness services, especially for mental health and chronic health conditions, only become available when it is too late. The Perlin Foundation offers these programs in the hopes that, before a crisis, we will have the tools to start climbing out, instead of digging ourselves in deeper. The Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing is creating opportunities for learning about health and wellness before a crisis and without a referral.
“We all have a story of defiance,” says Stacey. The role of the Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing is to help people find their stories, especially in terms of their health, just as Stacey did. How can we make more space for health and wellness in our world? What would the world look like if we focused on making opportunities for kindness in our communities? How would our world change if we reconnected health and wellness? The Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing is helping us find out.
SeeKindness is being featured in an Open Minded Chat in May! Stay tuned for details.
You can read more about the Perlin Foundation for Wellbeing here.