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Kendall Worth: The double stigma of poverty and mental health

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This is a story about a gentleman I got to know over the past few months. I will call him William. However, that is not his real name. Like many other income assistance recipients he does not want to be identified.

This story is in a way a follow-up to my recent story about poor people with mental health issues being harassed by police and security guards. He also has issues with involuntary body language, and there have been times when he has been spoken to about this type of behaviour in public.

As well,  he is lonely and socially isolated. Like many income assistance recipients he feels stigmatized for being on income assistance recipients and also because of the way he lives with mental health issues.

Within the run of a week he spends anywhere from 50% to 90% of his time alone and socially isolated. He dreams of a better life.     

William moved to Halifax from Truro a few years ago. Before that, 20 years ago or so he moved to Nova Scotia from Labrador with his family. In his younger life in Labrador he kept busy attending school and doing volunteer activities. He also played ice hockey a lot. When he moved to Nova Scotia all of the friendships he had back home in Labrador ended because he lost touch with them.

However, how he got on the system was back in 2004. Before he got sick he had a real good job where he was making enough money to not even have to dream about going on the system. He had a great job he held down for 10 years. This all changed when he had a major mental health breakdown.

He was still living in Truro at the time. However when he got sick there were no beds for him in Truro, so an ambulance transported him to the Abby Lane here in Halifax.That’s where he was diagnosed as living with bipolar disorder.  

Then after a stay in the hospital everyone who was part of his care, including his sister, thought it would be a good idea for him to live in Halifax so he can be near the resources he needs for getting help.

The sad thing about William’s life is that he only leaves his apartment to go to the mental health groups he participates in, which is only once a week. As well, two or three times a week he will go to soup kitchens and drop-ins where poor people go.

That leaves three to four days per week where he sits at home all day and watches movies/TV. He agrees this is not healthy for him, but when you live in poverty there is not much for you to be around like-minded people, he feels.

He did try to repair a friendship he lost once, but that did not work out well, he says, without getting into details.

He has a sister who will come to visit him once a month. She cannot see him too often because she works full time and has her own family, plus she lives in Truro. The good news is that he does get to be with his sister and her family when it comes to holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.

“I wish there was a service where I could make a like minded new friend to hang out with. I also wish there was a support group I could go to where I could meet others who also have experienced losing friendships,” he says.

Then he said to me, “also Kendall, I wish there was a support group I could attend regularly for those who have issues with involuntary body language in public.”

William was telling me that one thing he would like to do is to get back into playing ice hockey. When William told me that one, It had me thinking “wow, playing ice hockey, what a great way to get out of the apartment and socialize with people.”

But the problem is registration to join things like ice hockey is so expensive that you outright cannot afford what they cost when you only get $810.00, meaning the $535 for shelter and $275 for personal allowance, from Community Services. Community Services will not cover the cost of joining something like an ice hockey team, not even as a special need.

Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

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One Comment

  1. If William is under 30 years of age he can go to Laing House – a drop-in centre for youth living with mental illness. He can meet friends who also have diagnoses and not stay in isolation. Please visit lainghouse.org for more information.

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