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Gala will raise funds for supportive housing for people with mental illness

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Comedian Colin Mochrie will headline the Chai-Tikvah Foundation's annual gala on May 2. (Kris Krüg/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bell’s Let’s Talk Day has become an important date on the calendar for advocates of mental health.

Not only does it get people talking about the subject and help diminish the stigma attached to it, but Bell has raised nearly $7 million for mental health initiatives in Canada.

The Chai-Tikvah Foundation, a Jewish mental health organization that has helped people cope with mental health issues for 25 years, will make its own pitch for financial support at its annual gala on May 2.

With proceeds from the event going towards supportive housing for mental health patients, the organization hopes to raise as much as $30,000 from the evening. Comedian Colin Mochrie will headline the event, which will take place at York Mills Gallery 2 in Toronto.

The theme of the event is “a little humour goes a long way in support of mental health,” a departure from past galas, which saw prominent sports figures discuss mental health issues.

Previous headliners included former Toronto Maple Leaf Ron Ellis, former heavyweight boxer George Chuvalo and broadcaster Michael Landsberg.

READ: WHAT’S A RABBI’S ROLE IN DESTIGMATIZING MENTAL ILLNESS?

Despite the increasingly higher profile being given to mental health, the issue does still carry a stigma, one that is difficult to overcome, said Rochelle Goldman-Brown, executive director of the Chai-Tikvah Foundation.

Raising money for mental health initiatives in the Jewish community remains a difficult endeavour, she said.

Goldman-Brown, who formerly held a senior position with the Reena Foundation, which assists developmentally delayed people, said it was easier to raise money to support those with developmental issues than for those grappling with mental illnesses.

When making a pitch for those with developmental delays, one generally comes across people who feel that it’s a physical ailment, and they feel sorry for the agency’s clients. When it comes to mental illness, “People see it as a character defect.… It’s not seen the same as other illnesses, so it doesn’t get the same kind of recognition,” she said.

Nevertheless, one in five Canadians will be hospitalized with a mental illness and one in three families will be affected by it, Goldman-Brown said.

Mark Klein knows all too well how mental illness can affect a family. His 29-year-old son suffers from schizophrenia and is a resident of Chai-Tikvah’s group home.

“Our son was at home with us for quite awhile. He lived by himself with the support of friends, but it never worked out,” Klein said.

Keeping his son on his medication was always a challenge and when he looked at group homes, he was discouraged by the atmosphere, the bundling of people with drug abuse problems with those experiencing mental health issues and the lack of support from professional staff.

He found Chai-Tikvah and it marked a major change in his son’s life, Klein said.

“It’s probably the best-run group home. There are social workers there. It’s a Jewish environment. People care about my son.

“For my son, it’s been an amazing place. Finally, I can sleep at night. He’s well looked after,” Klein said.

Chai-Tikvah, which translates from Hebrew as “Life-Hope,” offers a number of programs for its clients. Among them is the Jerry Turk Fellowship Home, a group home with 24-hour staff support for eight adults suffering from chronic mental illnesses.

It also operates the Life & Hope Foundation Triplex, a semi-independent residential facility consisting of three units that can accommodate up to eight adults each. And it runs Club Simcha, a recreational club for between 20 to 30 people.

The organization offers case management services to offer counselling to clients and works with seniors who are caregivers for loved ones with mental health issues.

Chai-Tikvah is currently renovating a six-unit building and turning it into a residence that will one day house 20 or more people, Goldman-Brown stated.