Kellen De Vos is dedicated to giving Elgin County youth the opportunity he didn’t have when mental illness changed the course of his life.
The Out There Creative Therapy founder and Springfield native experienced the debilitating effects of mental illness when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2008. He spent three years in and out of the hospital, and came through this dark time knowing he wanted to help others struggling with mental illness.
Out There Creative Therapy (OTC Therapy) provides creative resources and gets youth involved with high end productions such as film, writing, comedy, and music for little to no cost. Working closely with the Canadian Mental Health Association, OTC Therapy was approved for an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, which currently provides its funding.
The problem OTC Therapy seeks to remedy is the lack of resources in Elgin County for youth to foster their creativity, which Kellen says they believe is “key to mental health and life in general.” The organization offers opportunities such as Stand Up for Mental Health, a program for people affected by mental illness who want to be stand up comedians. They are also currently in the middle of creating a film with Grayden Laing of Laing Studios and Establish Media.
“Creativity is not just for me, Kellen De Vos. No. Creativity is in all of us just as equally. Just like everyone’s gotta clean their toilet, everyone’s gotta be creative. You can quote me on that.”
–Kellen De Vos
Only Human, the film’s working title, is shot in St. Thomas and tells the story of a hip hop artist in a dystopian city who struggles with lack of meaning in his career. Filming in some of the ‘rougher’ areas of St. Thomas, Kellen says, “We tried to shoot it in a way that shows its [St. Thomas’s] beauty, and also the struggle that this town is going through. But we tried to do it in a really respectful way.”
Far from the cutthroat culture of typical movie sets, which Kellen has experienced firsthand, the making of Only Human allows people affected by mental illness to feel comfortable. Some of the actors and film crew have battled with depression, bipolar, and anxiety, and several people with psychosis had substantial parts.
Kellen describes the countercultural way that they recruited: “I would tell people, ‘If you come to the set and you, hypothetically, have an anxiety attack or something where you can’t perform, that’s ok. You can leave if you have to.’” Though they are prepared to be flexible, Kellen says that it often isn’t necessary in the end because taking away that pressure means lower stress for all involved, and things tend to run smoothly.
Being involved in real productions such as Only Human gives valuable life experience to those who need to start over, as well as the opportunity to use creativity as an outlet. This was extremely important to Kellen when he started Out There Creative Therapy because he says that his creativity got him through his own illness in a lot of ways. “There’s nothing more powerful, I feel, than creativity,” he says. “It’s a necessity.”
If you or someone you know might be interested in some of the activities and opportunities that Out There Creative Therapy offers, check out their website at http://otctherapy.ca/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo courtesy of www.otctherapy.ca.