Canary Nation is a (soon-to-be) nonprofit that is a cultural hub for vulnerable and underserved populations local to MD/DC/Baltimore/NOVA. Our current focus is providing social lives for people facing mental illness challenges. We believe that life is more than work, school, doctors, and support groups. Life is actually none of those things- life is what comes after all that.
Canary’s name is a reference to the saying “Canary in a coal mine,” where coal miners would use canaries to alert them when the mine air was getting toxic. The canary would stop singing and get sick before any human would notice that the air was lethal.
Much like canaries in coal mines, we with mental health difficulties are often more sensitive to the problems of society. We believe that by creating safer places where we canaries can breathe easier, not only will we get a chance to sing to our greatest potential, we’ll also be able create environments that are healthier and happier for everyone- even those without mental health challenges.
Canary Nation seeks to provide life to people with mental illness (Canaries, as we call them) and does so in a variety ways. One way is that we host our own mental health inclusive events that serve a large population of people with mental illness: those who are existing in society generally without managed care, but are not thriving because at they don’t have enough comfortable places where they can go, relax, and not have to hide their mental illness. At Canary, people come out to have fun, and end up finding support (despite the fact that we’re not a support group). This is because we create a culture where Canaries can freely talk about their experiences without facing stigma, ostracization, and shame when they talk about their mental health specific struggles.
We bring in the general population without mental health issues to our events in hopes that we can one day normalize these interactions. We attract this population by creating events that exceed the desirability of events that are not mental health inclusive. By creating a culture that takes care of Canaries, this actually makes our events more desirable to people without mental illness- people who are simply not familiar with Canaries’ struggles.
I was inspired to create Canary based on my personal struggles. I was born with what could objectively be described as the worst form of Schizophrenia, and continue to face daily symptoms beyond what many experience while actively hospitalized. Despite this, I have had the opportunity to gain control over my terrible symptoms and thrive because I’ve had a rich social life and active support network. In spite of this terrible condition which usually condemns people to an existence of isolation, I’ve been empowered to survive and occasionally thrive due to social experiences improving my quality of life. I seek to bring these experiences to other Canaries in the hopes that they might be similarly uplifted.
Canary serves the entire population of people with mental illness by partnering with other organizations beyond Canary’s scope of events. We are currently in talks to work with On Our Own, The League for People With Disability (Club 1111), and The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). When someone who has needs beyond our scope comes to or is referred to Canary, we don’t simply hand them a business card to another organization. We maintain deep connections to these other organizations and create in-person human to human introductions. We also seek to empower these organizations by lending them a hand, throwing them Canary-sponsored parties, and facilitating conversations and resource-sharing between them.
One of our current initiatives is getting the various county chapters of On Our Own to organize a rideshare to Club 1111 in Baltimore, a once-monthly event hosted by the League for People with Disabilities. This is one example of a life experience unlike anything else available to this population of people with mental illness.