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We All Believe in You premieres at Metro Cinema

Peer supported mental wellness movement is known as WABIY
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We All Believe In You

Documentary film screening and Q&A with director Andrea Beça and Blake Loates, founder of WABIY

It will be presented along with a screening of Queer Scouts, directed by Katie Cutting. Cutting will participate in the Q&A as well.

Wednesday, July 17, Doors open at 6 p.m. with screenings to start at 7 p.m. Metro Cinema is located at 8712 109 St. in Edmonton. Tickets are $12 and all proceeds go to WABIY. More details can be found at metrocinema.org and weallbelieveinyou.com.

Blake Loates and her camera. That’s how it all started. ‘It’ is more than a photo exhibit. ‘It’ spawned a peer supported mental wellness movement that has already accomplished much in only a short period of time, and is still growing. ‘It’ is even already on the journey to becoming a non-profit organization with even bigger plans for the future.

That ‘It’ is We All Believe In You, frequently shortened as WABIY, which sounds like Way-Bee. WABIY is now also a film, which will be getting its first screening during a special event launch next Wednesday at Metro Cinema.

The former psychiatric nurse from Edmonton explains that she struggled with her mental health since she was a teenager. It silenced her and kept her separated from the world to the point that she was unable to even get out of bed.

“I was so isolated in my brain. My brain was my prison, and I lived there all by myself,” Loates says in a scene from director Andrea Beça’s new documentary.

She was about 14 when depression became a serious problem in her life. By the time she was 19, she needed a really big change of scenery to reboot her mindset so she took a trip to Nepal with a camera in hand. Her health wasn’t great during the trip but she discovered that the camera had the power to help get her out of her head.

She came up with the idea to take photos of other people who had mental health struggles, and learn their stories too.

“I really just wanted to take photos of people and share their stories because I really believed that that was only the only way to decrease stigma in the world: by putting faces to stories,” she explained.

She had Beça help her with that and practically from the get-go it started turning into something bigger.

Finding people who wanted to open up about their mental health was actually a lot easier that some people might expect. A lot of the credit for that goes to Loates who approached the matter not as an outsider but as one of the subjects.

“I lead by example in that I've always been very open with my story. If you go onto my social media, it's very apparent and evident that I started with my mental health. Lead by example, first and foremost. Second of all, I had zero problems finding people who wanted to share their stories. In fact, I probably had way more people than I could actually have handled. I think that reason is that people are really tired of living in the shame and anonymity of mental illness. They want to be loved and accepted, and heard. Mainly heard. I had no problem actually, which was always good. It's always good to hear that people are willing to be open and honest about what they're struggling with. Because I always say that vulnerability saves lives,” Loates continued, adding that she aspired to create this show for many years.

The Canadian Mental Health Association heard about it and asked if she wanted to open up Mental Health Awareness Week that year with an art show. For one night, the Art Gallery of Alberta hosted an exhibit of 60 of her portrait photos and their accompanying stories. A picture might be worth a thousand words but the photographer found something invaluable in the text.

“What I decided was in that process of interviewing all those people, I really learned that the common thread and struggle with the people with mental health issues is just isolation: lack of community, feeling really alone, and isolated, feeling like rejected from society, that they were misunderstood and not heard,” she said.

“I decided to start a Facebook group for the people who I interviewed. I called it We All Believe In You because it's pretty self-explanatory. I really wanted it to be a community of people who believed in one another to get through their struggles, a place of support, and compassion.”

Search ‘We All Believe In You’ and ‘We All Believe in You...The Community’ on Facebook to learn more.

That social media facility really hit it off with a lot of its members. Within the year, a lot of them were telling her that they would be happier to meet and talk in person, even to walk dogs or do things together.

That was the start of WABIY’s peer support meetings. Together, they even raised money to rent some office space for just that purpose. Within three months, they needed a bigger space because there were so many people coming to talk. Now, she hosts face-to-face peer support gatherings every Monday and Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at 5420 82 Ave. in Edmonton. They have a walk/run group that get fresh air and exercise in the river valley every Tuesday evening too.

Beça is a firm believer in We All Believe In You.

“Very much so. I struggle with my own mental health. I live with anxiety, depression and PTSD. It's a really safe place to talk. There's a really, really strong community,” she said.

Loates is now a peer support worker with Alberta Health Services and played a pivotal role in advocating for greater mental health services in the Edmonton area, especially with the Access 24/7 Clinic. Beça stayed on Team WABIY from Day 1 and has seen how lives have improved because of the grassroots movement.

“The amount of change that she has created – a single person spearheading all this change in terms of how we approach and accommodate folks struggling with mental illness – has been astounding,” Beça said.

Over the years, they talked about what a documentary could add to the equation in terms of spreading the word.

“My ultimate goal with it was that anybody watching it could see themselves reflected back in one way or another,” the director said, adding how proud she is of the final result.

“I think that we've really achieved the documentary told through a dual storyline. There's the story about how she got to start We All Believe In You and how it grew. Running alongside that is the story of a group of people who are part of the WABIY community talking about the various facets of living with mental health: what it's like to live with mental illness, what the stigma is like, what the barriers are like, those sort of things. It’s a really diverse group of folks sharing their stories. Despite everyone having their own unique story, there's also a very strong bond and how strong lives are to what it’s like when you struggle with your mental health.”

Now that it’s a reality, they see even bigger possibilities on the horizon. WABIY is being turned into a non-profit organization. Proceeds from ticket sales from the screening will help make that a reality.

Two docs for the price of one

Beça also had a hand in editing Edmonton director Katie Cutting’s documentary Queer Scouts, which will be presented during the event as well. The real program is organized by the Prairie Youth Radical Organizing School, starting in the wake of closure of Camp fYrefly.

“They're a leadership program and personal development program for LGBTQA2S+ youth aged 14 to 24, and one of their big central tenets is that it is for youth and by youth, so they don't have as much of an organizational structure or as much of a hierarchical organizational structure as you might otherwise expect out of Boy Scouts or Girl Guides,” Cutting said. “They're really working more from a cooperative model, as opposed to a model of government governance that does have those hierarchical structures.”

The group focuses on the queer youth experience and how they can participate in social justice issues that really mean something important to them.

Beça noted that the entire evening will be be fully accessible for the deaf community with an interpreter on site and both screenings will be captioned.

“It’s an effort to be as accessible as possible. One of the folks in my doc is deaf and her experiences are totally unique and heartbreaking and amazing,” she said.


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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