Where We Came From
Eighteen years ago, photographer and We All Believe in You (WABIY) Founder, Blake Loates, discovered her passion for photography and using it to make a difference in the world. Blake was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at a young age and always felt very alone in her struggle. From her frequent trips to the library to research her disorder, she learned that a staggering 1 in 5 people in Canada have a mental illness. Blake questioned how the rate could be so high yet she felt isolated in her struggle. The answer was simple: Stigma. Blake wanted that to change. She wanted herself and others to feel less isolated and more connected to others who are going through similar experiences. She dreamed of taking photographs of people with mental illnesses and using a creative medium to tell their stories. Moreover, she wanted to create a community for those struggling with mental illness to have access to support and a safe space to feel accepted and less alone. To read more about Blake, visit her personal website here.
The original project percolated for many years due to Blake’s struggles with her own illness. During that time Blake also became a psychiatric nurse, but her love of photography and social justice drew her back to other endeavours. But when Blake’s hero, Robin Williams, died by suicide she knew that the project could no longer lay dormant. The world was ready and waiting to have a conversation about mental health and there was no time like the present; she needed to bring this idea to life. On May 23, 2016, We All Believe in You was officially launched at the Art Gallery of Alberta in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) for Mental Health Awareness Week.
Seventy-five portraits and stories were displayed at the Art Gallery that evening. Over 500 people attended the show, and thousands of dollars were raised for CMHA. But what was most remarkable was seeing how proud the participants and attendees were of their bravery and honesty. It was an emotional evening full of love and hugs. Check out some of the amazing images from the event here.
In 2017, We All Believe in You was contacted by the Canadian Mental Health Association to create portraits for Suicide Prevention Week. The images were used in this awesome collaboration video. You can view all of the photos here. Portraits were taken in 40 different Edmonton locations over four days. What was originally intended to include 30 participants quickly grew to 120 because so many Edmontonians wanted to put their face behind the cause of suicide prevention. Participants were asked to create a ‘Message of Hope’ to help to inspire a person struggling with suicidal ideation to keep on going. So many hugs, tears and stories were shared during these four days.
WABIY highly values community, and to reflect that value we started an online Facebook support group for those struggling with mental illness. To date, over 700 individuals are part of this online movement, regularly discussing struggles and offering support and connection to each other. To join the online community, please visit here. In addition, we now also offer in-person peer-support meetings in Edmonton where participants can meet face-to-face and connect in a safe space led by WABIY facilitators. To find out more information about our peer-support gatherings, click here.
So, what does the future have in store for We All Believe in You? As an organization, WABIY deeply values education as a tool for suicide prevention and the fight against the stigma of mental illness. More recently we have been involved in educating teenagers about suicide prevention and mental illness in YEG, and we plan to go full steam ahead with education in the community. We also believe that mental wellness is a fundamental right for all Albertans and Canadians, regardless of income or socio-economic status. We will be advocating for affordable, long-term therapeutic services for all.
In addition to our advocacy work, we plan to enhance access to social activities by creating a program of events and projects solely dedicated to those struggling with mental illness. We hope to provide a range of health, fitness, arts and crafts, and social events and workshops in the hopes of reducing isolation and providing people with a healthy outlet in the company of others. Watch this space!
If you would like to book a speaker at one of your upcoming events to present on stigma, personal experiences, education, and resources around mental illness, please email us. You can also check out our speakers and upcoming engagements here!