A grassroots organization, AMI-Québec is committed to helping families manage the effects of mental illness through support, education, guidance and advocacy. By promoting understanding, we aim to dispel the stigma still surrounding mental illness, thereby helping to create communities that offer new hope for meaningful lives.
AMI-Quebec was started in 1977 by four couples who got together to share their experiences and offer support to each other. As Sylvia Klein, one of the founding members, recalled, “at the time there wasn’t very much information to be had.” Moreover, families were often viewed as the cause of mental illness. The connection was immediate, says Sylvia: “I was able to talk about all the problems we were having…problems that we could not even discuss with our parents, brothers, sisters, or even close friends. It was too difficult to share with family or friends who really did not understand. Nobody understood.”
An article in the then Montreal Star drew 30 new people to an information meeting at the JGH Institute of Community and Family Psychiatry. Shortly thereafter the group was allowed to use the Institute’s premises for support groups and monthly lectures, and thus laid the foundation for the organization. Social workers from the Douglas Hospital helped families to learn how to cope and manage, and how to live with a relative with mental illness, which was invaluable to the group. A seasonal newsletter, typed on a manual typewriter in a member’s living-room for the first 13 years, became a lifeline. In addition, advocacy efforts were started, including meeting with the psychiatric departments of all the hospitals to introduce them to the new organization for families. Since its early years, AMI has been instrumental in the development of FFAPAMM, the umbrella group of family organizations across Quebec, and other service organizations in Montreal and beyond.
It is the determination and perseverance of the founding members and the people they brought in that guided the trajectory of the organization. From a small nucleus with no funding for the first 13 years, AMI is now a thriving organization with ten staff and some 130 volunteers, offering a wide menu of programs and activities to address the needs of families. Continuous evaluation and adjustment of programs ensure we remain relevant and helpful.
In 2016 we purchased the building at 5800 Decarie as a new, permanent home. We are here to stay!
Nothing sums up AMI’s raison d’être better than Sylvia Klein’s words: “(We) came from the four corners of this city, from all walks of life and different cultures. We all shared a common pain, a family member with some form of a mental illness. We blended together as an extended family without barriers. Our goal was to help each other.”
While the Québec government considers AMI-Québec a sub-regional organization (and funding is provided accordingly), the organization has extended its mandate to include assistance to English speaking families throughout the province. Funding provided by the government amounts to less than half the annual operating budget. The balance is raised through continuous fundraising.