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Laing House is fighting stigma and creating leaders

Inside an unassuming blue-sided house on Barrington street in Halifax, there’s something remarkable happening. Young people are gathering in groups to play games, craft, cook and make music; and while they do, they’re changing the face of mental health care.

At FCT, we’re invested in our communities. That’s why we’re proud to call Laing House one of our community partners in helping youth across Canada. Since 2001, they’ve helped Nova Scotians 16–29 struggling with their mental health. Through support and peer mentorship, Laing House helps them on their journey from stigma, to recovery, to advocacy.

An interview with Colin Bullard, Fund Development Coordinator at Laing House

What makes Laing House’s approach unique?

We take a professional, but non-clinical approach to helping youth who struggle with mental health issues. We don’t have patients, we have members. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been professionally diagnosed or self-diagnosed, we’re here to help them feel at home.

Laing House provides recovery through recreation, with programs like music or art therapy, or even food programming, where members cook and eat together. We run body positivity workshops, queer clubs and more. All our programs are designed to create different safe places for our members to come together and share their experiences.

It’s recovery where you feel like a person, not a patient. Members can come in and play games, talk about their challenges in a way that feels natural. A space like this was a real gap in a very clinical, and sometimes shelter-only, care system.

What role does peer support play in your members’ recovery?

People going through similar issues can come together and help each other. We focus on helping our members build a strong network of mutual aid that doesn’t have to rely on staff or the medical system.

Our members take leadership roles with each other, helping other members talk things out and even planning new programs together. Through peer support, they develop new skills and confidence, autonomously.

Before COVID, many of our members went to schools, business meetings or conventions to speak about mental health, and put a face to their diagnosis. We’ve had a lot of young people in the area come to Laing House after hearing one of our members share their experience—it opens a door for people to come in and seek help by destigmatizing mental health.

How does Laing House and its members fight mental health stigma?

Some of our members are working through serious mental health issues like schizophrenia and even psychosis. They’ve have had to deal with the assumptions that come with their diagnosis: that they can’t think for themselves, that they’re irrational or that they need to be monitored at all times.

Stigma like that can force people to hide what they’re struggling with or risk people in their lives distancing themselves. They might not get hired for a job, or may even get denied housing.

At Laing House, we try to provide a place where that stigma does not exist and can’t hurt their ability to recover. The key is to make it feel normal to talk about mental health, which is a challenge even in normal circumstances.

We keep everything casual, whether members are talking about an eating disorder, being too anxious to make a phone call, or feeling too unwell to go into work. It’s important to hear and understand that you’re not weak or a failure if your resiliency is low today.

Outside Laing House, we partner with a number of organizations through different communities in the area to promote discussions around mental health. It can carry a greater stigma in some communities and cultures, which stops people from seeking the help they need. We partner with established groups in these communities to make sure there’s no tokenization or distrust.

Breaking stigma comes down to trust, openness and honesty. Our members are just regular people finding themselves at a difficult age and time. They need help, but they’re still sociable, approachable people. Helping our members see themselves for who they are and not how they’ve been diagnosed is the first step. Helping the public see it is the second.

We’re here to fill the gap in the healthcare system by being somewhere people can come together and be themselves—no barriers, no stigma, no need to hide.


Find out how you can support Laing House, and make a difference to youth in Nova Scotia.




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