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Painting good for the heart, soul

United Way funds class that enriches lives

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KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 
Arita Sawatzky paints at the Artbeat Studio and says the relaxing activity helps her with her healing.

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KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Arita Sawatzky paints at the Artbeat Studio and says the relaxing activity helps her with her healing.

Arita Sawatzky moved from downtown Winnipeg to St. Vital, where she was bullied through elementary and high school.

"A lot of people discriminated because I didn't come from a wealthy family. They would sometimes hit me outside of school," said the now-24-year-old.

"The verbal abuse came from all sorts of different people."

For the past two years, Sawatzky has been finishing what the bullies left off at the Canadian Mental Health Association -- Winnipeg Region. The association's Rehab Recovery Program helps her cope with both depression and anxiety.

The Canadian Mental Health Association -- Winnipeg Region is part of a nationwide organization that supports the recovery of people who deal with mental illness. The association helps more than 5,000 Manitobans a year.

"I had a lot of difficulty with maintaining balance of my life," said the Winnipeg resident. "I just really needed assistance and it's nice to have an outsider's perspective."

Sawatzky meets with a counsellor once a week to help her overcome symptoms.

"I go through waves of depression; when I'm stressed it hits me full force," she said. "As an adult it's still a part of my daily life. It doesn't just go away."

Sawatzky also escapes her depression and anxiety by painting three times a week at Artbeat Studio Inc., a studio recommended by the association. Sawatzky works on art projects and paints images that relax her, including her cat, Panda.

"A lot of doors opened for me just by opening their door (the Canadian Mental Health Association)," she said. "Painting has really helped with the healing."

But the association admits mental illness isn't a hot topic of discussion for Manitobans.

"It's an upward climb to talk about, which seems surprising given how common mental-illness problems are," said Nicole Chammartin, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association -- Winnipeg Region. "If you don't feel good emotionally, it's difficult to do other things in life."

One of the ways the Canadian Mental Health Association helps is by educating students about mental health across the city. This program, along with many others, is funded by the United Way of Winnipeg,

"They (United Way) help us year after year," she said. "They're critical to our existence."

The United Way invests in a network of more than 100 agencies, programs and partnerships that deliver services within the community for people such as Sawatzky.

Anyone interested in donating to the United Way can call 204-477-5360 or visit unitedwaywinnipeg.ca.

fraser.a.liz@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 B4

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