WATCH: Coffee shop in North Vancouver offers employment and hope to people with mental illness

A Blenz coffee shop in North Vancouver is aiming to counter the stigma around mental illness.

They employ people with the “lived experience” of mental illness.

It is the first of its kind in British Columbia.

The coffee shop idea was conceived as a way of rehabilitation for people with lived experience as part of the newly launched $62.2-million HOpe Centre.

The social enterprise café is operated by Blenz Coffee through the Canadian Mental Health Association and provides employment opportunities to clients with mental illnesses, helping them to work successfully in a supported environment.

Sandra Severs with the Canadian Mental Health Association told Global News mental health does not get as much attention as physical health.

“Because we don’t engage in those conversations, very often, there is a lot of fear and misunderstanding around it,” says Severs. “It has to move to a place where we just have conversations about it.”

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Manager of the coffee shop Jo-Anne McDougall says she herself struggled with an anxiety disorder that went undiagnosed for many years.

“I went through two-and-a-half years of quite a personal struggle,” says McDougall. “I am very thankful to say I had a lot of therapy, core support, wonderful friends and family to get me through it…Every day, I get to go to work and I get to be myself with no fear associated with somebody knowing that I have a mental illness.”

McDougall says she’s now happy to help others.

“It is a great trust issue. I love that my team will come to me when they are having a bad day,” she says. “We can talk about it and we can carry on.”

McDougall adds they are already seeing some success stories.

One of her baristas has now been able to move out independently and is having a goal of eventually being completely independent of government subsidy.

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