Marilyn White-Campbell BA, D.Grt.

Geriatric Addiction Specialist BSO, Behaviour Support for Seniors Program


T 416-785-2500, ext. 3870
C 647-455-0554

Baycrest Centre 3560 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON, M6A 2E1

Anti Stigma Programming - An Arts Based Approach to Recovery with Concurrent Disordered Older Adults

Community Outreach Programs in Addictions (COPA) is a Canadian community based organization that assists older adults aged 55 and over who live with substance misuse and mental health issues. A newly launched psychoeducatonal group support program called COPA College© was developed in response an identified need in the community and  Long Term Care homes in Toronto.  The group consists of weekly sessions where clients are exposed to a wide range of topics. The handouts and topics have a common theme of addiction, mental health in the context of late life. The program aims to provide support to socially disadvantaged older adults with concurrent disorders through a group format which destigmatizes addictions, mental health and in the context of late life aging.  


Living with mental health and addictions is  often associated with  poorer health, poor social supports and poverty.  Positive social activity promotes social inclusion and provides a buffering effect for the many challenges that marginalized individuals face.  Opportunities to participate in community activities and access community resources can support improved quality of life.  The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is a community resource, however, attending a major art gallery is often perceived as elitist for a number of reasons, the cost and it is regarded as a hobby of the erudite and wealthy. A partnership was developed between Community Outreach Programs in Addictions (COPA) and the COPA College program was hosted at the  Art Gallery of Ontario  (AGO )for one semester..  

Methods and results The COPA College Program partnered with the AGO which provided  weekly access to  the Gallery over an 8 week period with guided tours  by an  Education Assistant. The guides were given preselected topics and provided a guided tour and discussion with focus paintings by Artists  who themselves  lived with addictions and mental health issues.  All participants completed reflections rating their experience at the AGO. The evaluation results indicated that the experience was extremely positive. The participants commented on the connection between the  mental health, addictions and the artist and how they viewed the art, how welcome they felt and on their experience in the art gallery. 80% of participants spoke to others about their experience and 100% reported feeling good when they were at AGO


We know that an individual’s health status and outcomes is related to more than physical factors, other aspects are equally and perhaps in some cases more important, chief amongst these is social inclusion.  This is “the notion of belonging, acceptance and recognition and entails the realization of full and equal participation in economic, social, cultural and political institutions” (York Institute for Health Research). It is about being able to live the kind of life that is considered reasonable in your identified community, to participate in regular activities and be engaged in community life.

Social inclusion programming is an important component of care in the treatment of older adults living concurrent disorders and is a way to decrease the stigma associated with addictions, mental health issues and being an older person.  We know that an individual’s health status and outcomes is related to more than physical factors,  

We can conclude that exposure to and participation in social inclusion programming has a positive impact on older adults with concurrent disorders.  Social inclusion should be an important area of focus when establishing programs for older adults who are marginalised.  


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