Tyler Colbourne is the new executive director of the Healthy Minds Cooperative in downtown Dartmouth. It’s a registered charity that aims to improve the lives of people impacted by mental health challenges. At its heart, the organization connects people with people: everyone who helps or receives help has been impacted by mental illness and/or addictions in some way in their lives. Colbourne says the opportunity to lead the cooperative is not only his dream job, but also a victory over his own battle with addiction to hard drugs and alcohol.
“What I love about this place, being a cooperative that is focused on relationships, networks and community, is that those are the very things that really helped me to get to where I am,” says Colbourne.
A photo shared by Tyler of himself as a child venturing along a wooded path.
In May, Colbourne will mark six full years that he’s been in recovery. He says his struggles with mental health and addiction began long before he finally sought treatment. For starters, growing up queer in the valley in the 80s and 90s was no picnic. He also recently discovered that he was living with undiagnosed ADHD for many years. In 2010, his mental health took a particularly devastating blow when his brother was hit by a suicide bomber while serving in Afghanistan. Colbourne says his brother managed to survive, but the attack shattered the lives of everyone in the family. He “coped” with the trauma by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
“It got so bad, I maxed out several credit cards. I was lucky to have a car, but I couldn’t drive go to my job across the bridge because my MacPass kept failing. The screen at the gate would flash ‘insufficient funds, access denied.’”
Colbourne says the MacPass toll gate message was literally a sign that he needed help. He says good people around him also recognized that he was in distress and began to reach out. Colbourne says he recognizes how privileged and fortunate he is to have been able to access the help that he needed. He says it not only saved his life but helped him find his purpose.
“I’m in my 30s and I’ve had over 45 jobs including flight attendant, pirate on a tall ship and shelter worker to name a few. When I was in recovery, I thought about what kind of career I could have that aligns with all the weird and wonderful things I’ve done, and I decided to become a social worker.”
About a year into his recovery, Colbourne applied to Dalhousie Unviersity’s social work program and was accepted. In 2020, he received his degree and became the first person in his family to graduate high school and university. Colbourne is currently pursuing his Master of Social Work degree through the University of Victoria.
“If I could go back to who I was six years ago and say, you’re going to be okay, and you’re going to do really impactful work, I don’t think I would have believed myself.”
Colbourne started his position at Healthy Minds Cooperative in January. He says one of his first priorities is building relationships among team members and with community partners to create an environment based on trust and collaboration. The employees at Cooperative do not offer clinical services; instead, they work to create enriched support systems for people.
“We work to fill gaps, to set up systems for success. If you plant a flower in good soil, it might bloom, but if you plant it in a concrete crack, it’s going to struggle.
Tyler and 3 freshly caught fish!
Colbourne says anyone can access the programs and services offered by Healthy Minds Cooperative. All you need to do is purchase a one-time $5 membership to the cooperative, which offers lifetime access to programs and services including: online workshops, peer to peer support and navigation.
“If anyone doesn’t have access to resources to pay that, we still welcome them in. We have several programs on offer right now, with more currently in development.”
Colbourne says he is thrilled that Healthy Minds Cooperative operates out of downtown Dartmouth for practical and philosophical reasons. On the practical side, lives a short distance from his office in Queen Square at 45 Alderney Drive, and his mother grew up in the community. On the philosophical side, Colbourne says he appreciates downtown Dartmouth’s plucky personality.
“I love that traditionally this community has been ‘the other’ in comparison to Halifax. I’ve often felt a bit ‘othered’ in my own queer identity, and in my own identity around addictions and mental health. I think there is a scrappiness that comes with that, and a sense of collective and ownership.”
Story by Crystal Garrett
Portrait photo by James MacLean