Finding mental health healing through entrepreneurship

A Canadian charity helps people with mental health problems not through medication or therapy, but by helping applicants start their own businesses.

Rise is a Toronto-based national program that offers small start-up loans, business coaching and training to people with addictions and mental disorders, an effective formula that boasts success stories like that of 34-year-old Darcy Alemany.

Like many Canadians, Alemany suffered from her mental health decline during the epidemic. “I felt like I had nowhere to go when I had no one to go to. And at that time, it felt like it would never end,” he told CTV News.

He says he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Part of her therapy was finding something she enjoyed doing.

Despite having a full-time job, Alemany began using her spare time to make lapel pins that would help her define her gender identity.

“As a gay man, I have trouble expressing myself and also being intersex,” Alemany said.

He was surprised that others wanted them too. So he started a business called Pin-Ace in early 2021. Customers can choose from 36 gender identity badges that can be combined and customized to express unique personalities.

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“Being able to express yourself and communicate about yourself is a huge factor, especially in the lives of queer and trans people,” Alemany said. “They may not have the tools before…”

Rise says she helped design a business plan, coaching, and training. He has a loan if he needs it, but sales are growing so fast he probably won’t need the loan. Alemany estimates that Pin-Ace sales could exceed $500,000 by 2023.

“Each of our clients describes themselves as having a mental health or addiction problem,” said Lori Smith, CEO of Rise. “And not every one of our clients takes a traditional loan from a bank. Dot by dot,” she added.

Incoming applications are increasing. Smith says that last year, Rise received 900 requests for funding or training, twice as many as in previous years. Success stories include people who have opened pet stores, bakeries and leather shops along with motivational speakers, musicians and artists. Rise reports that over its ten years of operation, it has lent nearly $3 million and helped start more than 700 businesses.

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“Many of our clients report increased self-confidence, increased ability to get out of difficult, challenging situations in their lives,” Smith said.

For some, it’s a side hustle for extra case. For others, it’s financial independence. According to Rise surveys, 78 percent report a decrease in the amount of provincial income support they receive because of their jobs.

“We did a recent survey of our customers last fall and we know that four out of five customers still run a business with a loan repayment rate of 88 percent,” Smith said. The next group will be entrepreneurs.

Michelle Tasa, a Calgary mother and teacher, applied for a loan after a series of traumatic events that shook her mind.

My life somehow exploded,” Tasa said. I couldn’t work,” he told CTV News.

Her husband, who had long suffered from a neurological disease, had recently died, and Tasa had landed a teaching job in China with her two children. When COVID-19 hit, she had a hard time returning to Alberta.

“We spent all our savings to go home. “Up until then it was an emergency,” he said. Years of stress and grief sent him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with complex PTSD with depression.

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Unable to return to a regular teaching position to support her family, Tasa applied for a $10,000 startup loan from Rise. This helped him found Art Pourings, a business that offers art classes and homeschooling.

“I discovered an entrepreneurial spirit in me. And Rise definitely helped me with that,” Tasa said.

Rise helped her design a business plan. He says he talks to his mentor regularly. Tasa has a few more side jobs to make ends meet, but she knows her job serves its purpose.

“I built a life that I really contributed to. So I’m already earning, Tasa said.

And grateful for his support.

“A mental health diagnosis doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, smart, and enterprising,” Tasa added.

“Can I say the job has healed me? No, not at all. I still have hard days,” said Alemany. “But despite these challenges, work keeps me hopeful. I feel a lot less gloomy now,” she said.


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