Finding mental health treatments through entrepreneurship

The Canadian charity helps individuals with mental health problems – not with medication or therapy – but by helping candidates start their own businesses.

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

Like many Canadians, Alemani suffered during the pandemic due to declining mental health. “I felt like I had nowhere to go when I had no one to turn to.” And at the time, it felt like it was never going to end,” he told CTV News.

He says he has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Part of his therapy was to find something he enjoyed.

Although he had a full-time job, Alemani began using his spare time to make lapel pins that would help him define his gender identity.

“It’s hard for me to express myself as a gay man while also being intersex,” Alemani said.

To his surprise, others wanted them too. So, at the beginning of 2021, he started a business called Pin-Ace. Customers can choose from 36 gender identity pins, which can also be mixed and matched to express unique personalities.

“Being able to express yourself and communicate about yourself is a huge factor, especially in the lives of queer and trans folk,” Alemany said. “Maybe they didn’t have the tools before…”

Rise, he says, helped him come up with a business plan, coaching and training. The loan is there if he needs it, but sales are growing so fast that he probably won’t need it. Alemani estimates that Pin-Ace sales could reach $500,000 in 2023.

“Every one of our clients self-identifies as having a mental health or addiction problem,” said Risa CEO Lori Smith. “And not every one of our clients would get a traditional bank loan.” Dot dot,” she added.

Incoming applications are on the rise. Last year, Smith says Rise received 900 requests for funding or training, twice as many as in previous years. Success stories include people who have started pet grooming shops, bakeries and leather shops, along with motivational speakers, musicians and artists. During its ten years of operation, Rise reports that it has lent nearly $3 million, helping to launch over 700 businesses.

“Most of our clients report increased confidence, increased ability to navigate difficult, difficult situations in their lives,” Smith said.

For some, it’s a side hustle for an extra suitcase. For others, it’s financial independence. According to Rise research, 78 per cent reported a decrease in the amount of provincial income support they receive as a result of their business.

“We did a recent survey of our customers last fall, and we know that four, five out of five of our customers are still in business, with an 88 percent loan repayment rate,” said Smith, who helps finance the next group of would-be entrepreneurs.

Michelle Tassa, a Calgary mother and teacher, applied for the loan after a series of traumatic events disrupted her mental health.

“My life kind of exploded,” Tasa said. I couldn’t function,” she told CTV News.

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

“We just spent all our savings to get home. Until then, it was kind of an emergency,” she said. Years of stress and grief landed her in the hospital where she was diagnosed with complex PTSD, along with depression.

Unable to return to a full-time teaching position to support her family, Tasa applied for a $10,000 seed loan from Rise. That helped her start Art Pourings, a business that offers art classes and homeschooling, named after Tasa said she coped with the stress of her life “with art pouring out of me and healing,” she said.

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

Rise helped her come up with a business plan. He says he talks to his mentor regularly. Tasa still has a few side jobs to make ends meet, but she knows her job gives her purpose.

“I’ve made a life where I actually contribute.” So I’m already winning,” Tasa said

And she is grateful for the support.

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

“Can I say that work has healed me?” Not at all. “I still have hard days,” Alemani said. “But despite these challenges, work allows me to feel hopeful.” I feel a lot less dark now,” he said.

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