Mind Aid; how one Saint Andrews man found his mental health crusade

SAINT ANDREWS – Mind Aid creator, Matthew Dickson knew he wanted to return to Saint Andrews. The Sir James Dunn Academy grad moved to Fredericton for university, and spent the next 29 years living and working in the provincial capital, but always felt the pull back to the seaside town. And two years ago, he finally returned.

Why did he remain in Fredericton for the bulk of three decades? Near the end of his university career, Dickson was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“I stayed in Fredericton throughout my recovery because someone said my chances of survival (due to his schizophrenia) were better in Fredericton, as it had a better mental healthcare system than in Saint Andrews,” says Dickson.

“I really wanted to be in Saint Andrews though. I find I am happier there.”

While in Fredericton, Dickson, who trained as an engineer, worked in data entry.

“I didn’t use it (the engineering degree), because I didn’t think I could handle the stress of a more complex job,” admits Dickson.

“I improved every single week for 27 years from very poor health in 1994 to 100 per cent health, as much as anyone can be 100 per cent, as of February 2021.

“I am feeling able-bodied, happy, peaceful, and content for the first time since I was a teenager.”

And as his mental health improved, so Dickson mused about what he wanted to do going forward.

“I know how difficult and horrible mental illness can be. I went through mental illness in Canada, with one of the better healthcare systems in the world, yet I felt like I was living in a war zone,” says Dickson.

“Throughout my whole recovery, my heart went out to people in poverty/war in developing countries who have mental illness to go through as well. What some people have to go through in this world is unthinkable.

“In 2017 I saw a TED talk by Vikram Patel on mental illness in developing countries, and it was the first time I’d seen any content on the cause. I delved into it more and found a lot of information on the cause was scattered across the web. I’ve made Mind Aid as a bit of a hub for the cause. It points people to the main areas of the cause all from one site.”

So what is Mind Aid? The premise is Dickson has created one go-to site that can direct users to six unique non-profits which all work to provide assistance to people suffering from mental illness in developing countries.

“Some countries have only one psychiatrist per million people,” says Dickson.

“Over 270 million people in developing countries have no mental health care. What’s worse is that there are hundreds of thousands of people in 60 countries who have mental illness and are actually kept in chains.”

Dickson hopes by creating awareness for the cause via Mind Aid, the more people will be compelled to help in some way.

“I believe if more people simply knew this and it was mainstream conversation, millions of people would want to help in some way,” says Dickson.

The six non-profits Mind Aid promotes all assist individuals in developing countries access basic mental health assistance.

“The good news in all of this is the WHO (World Health Organization) approved model of basic mental health care that is being used,” says Dickson of the non-profit’s Mind Aid highlights.

“It is low-cost, proven effective, and scalable; the WHO is trying to figure out the best way to roll it out to the masses. Until they do that, these non-profits are using the model successfully and helping thousands get their lives back.”

Along with the non-profits, Dickson steers users towards #BreakTheChains, and GenerationMentalHealth.org, an organization “molding the next generation of youth into global mental health leaders” says Dickson.

Mind Aid not only has a website that provides educational links, but also a YouTube channel with 200 plus videos offering details on the cause.

“It is certainly a good place to start if you want an overview of the cause and you don’t want to go searching for everything like I did,” says Dickson.

And while Dickson is aware how little of the New Brunswick healthcare budget is spent on mental health (less than 1 per cent), it was his access to mental health care in the province that pushed him to help those outside it.

“I decided to help those far away because I am glad I didn’t have to go through schizophrenia with my feet through a log, kept chained in a shed, or chained to a tree or bed for years. I wasn’t put in a cage with a hyena. I did get treatment for my disease, but it took 27 years for me to get better.

“I would love it if treatment here at home was better. I am also glad I wasn’t in other places in the world where it could have been worse. I am helping people who I think need it the most. And I know there are other people out there who would want to do the same if they only knew about the cause and how they could help.”

And while he forges his new path back in his hometown, Dickson is seeing the possibilities ahead.

“I am trying to make public speaking about Mind Aid my main focus,” he says.

“I love being in front of the camera, and informing people about the cause. I feel that is where I can offer the most. I may be able to run my own non-profit or social business for Mind Aid in the future, but I want to gain more experience before I do that.

“I know there are people out there, who if they knew about the cause, would have the skills and the desire to start their own non-profit or social business to help. The more people I can speak to, the better.

“I would love if mental health in developing countries was worked on as much as getting clean water, or building schools, or buying goats for people in developing countries.

“Clean water has armies of people helping on the ground. I would like to see the same for mental healthcare in developing countries. I want more people discussing this, brainstorming ways to help and taking action.”

If you want to learn more about Mind Aid and the groups it supports, Dickson has started a Facebook page for like-minded people to have conversations, and moreover, form a community that can brainstorm fundraising ideas and how to spread the word about the cause itself.

“For people in general though, I encourage you to help in any way you can,” says Dickson, “whether that’s a conversation at the store, sharing some posts on social media, putting on a bake sale, or whatever way you can think of.”

Dickson’s website is www.MindAid.ca, and it’s where you’ll find links to his Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn pages. You can also reach out to Dickson via email at info@mindaid.ca