Creativity can boost mental health and wellness. Just ask Audrey Cooper.
10% to 15% of Canada’s seniors suffer from depression. Depression is a common problem among older adults but it is not normal. In a sample of nearly 50,000 seniors living in residential care facilities (such as long-term care, nursing or personal care homes) in five Canadian jurisdictions, nearly half (44%) had a diagnosis and/or symptoms of depression.
Audrey Cooper is the 2018 London Creative Age Network Artist in Residence and when you hear her reflect on the events of her life you soon realize Audrey doesn’t sugar-coat her words. As a younger woman, Audrey often went against the wishes of others. Now at the age of 91, she says she still doesn’t fit in. And she likes it!
It’s easy to see why Audrey Cooper is an endearing, amusing, irreverent iconoclast and a role model for many.
In the 1950’s, Audrey was essentially snubbed by neighbours for venturing out to start her own business. Good wives and mothers in her social circle weren’t supposed to do things like that. But Audrey continued to build her new enterprise, even though there were few supports for newly-divorced, single entrepreneurial moms. Throughout her career, Audrey employed, trained and mentored many younger women in downtown Toronto. When she retired, Audrey decided to move from Toronto to a smaller town (London Ontario) just to be closer to family members
It was during that time, she found herself rapidly sinking into a deep depression and she knew she was in trouble. At the age of 76, she took a sabbatical from day to day life for mental health reasons. Instead of taking shock-therapy (the recommended treatment in psychiatric hospitals of the time) she picked up a paintbrush and started to paint with a prolific and feverish pace.
Her real healing began when she started to paint colourful and happy childhood memories of Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood. The colours lifted her spirit and the practice helped her through grieving to a place of acceptance and closure. Although she has recently sold many of her “urban folk art” narrative paintings, Audrey exhibits the larger works in her gallery called Art with Panache, located in downtown London Ontario.
Audrey opened the Art with Panache Gallery in the Talbot Centre when she was only 86 years old and she’s looking forward to the next life adventure.
Audrey believes professionally-led creative programs can lead many older adults out of the blackness of depression into a brighter and lighter world of music, movement and vibrant colour.
She’s talking about her experience at the Building Bridges: Connecting Communities luncheon on September 13th 2019