Nova Scotia

Halifax clothing store using proceeds to help people seek mental health support

The Grateful Wardrobe in Halifax sells second-hand clothing with proceeds going to offset the cost of mental health support.

'It breaks my heart when people cannot afford it. They don't even know it's there to be had'

Michelle Goueffic, president of the Mental Wellness Assistance Society of Nova Scotia, is shown outside The Grateful Wardrobe. (David Laughlin/CBC)

A Halifax second-hand store is selling used clothing with proceeds going to offset the cost of mental health support.

The Grateful Wardrobe on Dresden Row opened in March.

Michelle Goueffic, president of the Mental Wellness Assistance Society of Nova Scotia, the non-profit organization that operates the store, said she's long had a dream of owning a clothing shop when she retired.

She hasn't finished with her accounting practice just yet, but a recent trip to England inspired her to take action now.

When she was walking along St. James Street in Brighton, Goueffic noticed various small boutiques operating as charitable societies that would send proceeds to various causes, including mental health and animal protection.

"I said, 'Oh, wouldn't it be fun to do that?'" she said.

"But what purpose would I do it for? And, honest to God, God told me right then and there as I was walking along the street. I'll never forget the minute — therapy. Psychotherapy. People cannot afford therapy."

The idea kept "nagging" at her for months, until she began looking for a space this January.

She said she began gathering donated clothes and formed a board. The store opened in March.

Although it's been quite the challenge to open during a global pandemic, Goueffic said sales improved in April and May, especially their fabric masks made in Nova Scotia.

The Grateful Wardrobe on Dresden Row in Halifax sells used men's and women's clothing as well as fabric masks, with proceeds going to help people pay for mental health support. (David Laughlin/CBC)

She said it's all worth it to ensure more people can access therapy, which she said has been "essential" to her own life in the past 30 years.

"I don't know what I would have done without it. And at times it was difficult to pay for it, even though I have a good practice and good job," she said.

Psychotherapy is too expensive for many people in the province, said Goueffic, since private psychological and counselling services are not covered by MSI.

Even for those with private health coverage, most benefit plans cover $500 for therapy, which pays for just over three visits at 80 per cent coverage. The Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia recommends a fee of $190 per clinical hour for private psychologists.

When she didn't have enough money, Goueffic said she would skip sessions, which was "terrible."

Through the non-profit, Goueffic is hoping to help more people experience having their own therapist. To have a bond with somebody "who's just there for you" and can support you through rough times or illness is so helpful, she said.

"It breaks my heart when people cannot afford it. They don't even know it's there to be had. And again it's a thing for … the wealthy. And that's just not right."

Non-profit hopes to help people this year

Once they have raised $1,800 through sales, Goueffic said they will accept applications. A psychotherapist on the board will assess people by need, and their non-profit will pay 90 per cent of the applicant's therapy for up to 10 sessions.

In many cases, Goueffic said more than three visits are necessary for people to achieve positive results.

That leaves an applicant paying roughly $20 or less per session, Goueffic said.

An applicant can request a particular professional, Goueffic said, but if someone doesn't have a specific therapist in mind one can be recommended.

Sherry George, a Grateful Wardrobe employee, hangs clothing outside the Dresden Row shop in Halifax. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Goueffic said she hopes to be able to support at least three people through therapy by the end of this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has set them back.

"I think during a year of COVID, putting one person through, I'd be really, really happy," she said.

The store has a good amount of inventory right now since people have been generous so far, Goueffic said, but donations of men's and women's clothing in all sizes will always be accepted.

Goueffic said she would love to move into a larger space directly on Spring Garden Road in future so donations could be dropped off and sorted on-site instead of in her own basement. After that, she'd like to open a Dartmouth location as well.

The shop is now allowing two or three people in at a time to allow for physical distancing.

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