Interview News

Interview: Arifah Yusuf, Founder of Lifted By Purpose Discusses Mental Health Awareness & More 

Mental Health and wellness can be a touchy subject to talk about, but it’s something that affects everyone. Mental health and wellness are an important part of your overall health. If you don’t take care of your mental health, then you will find it hard to get to that place of wellness. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, over 970 million people worldwide suffer from a mental health condition. 

A recently published report has suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of 59% of people in the United States. So, we can conclude that mental health is one of the biggest issues that we are facing in today’s world, and it is something that we should all be talking about. 

Human beings are resilient. There is no doubt that we have the capability to find inner peace and happiness through our day-to-day struggles. However, certain situations can really take a toll on our mental health and well-being. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a victim of such circumstances. In fact, with a little mental preparation and a good frame of mind, you can make sure that such situations do not have a lasting effect on your life. 

In today’s interview, we will be speaking with Arifah Yusuf, the founder of Lifted By Purpose (LBP)- a creative enterprise that provides innovative trauma-informed mental health and wellness programs, training & services using the arts. 

The Toronto, Canada, community organization also gives individuals the opportunity to book internal training and workshops. Additionally the Lifted By Purpose provides registered program participants and Alumni personal and professional development certificate courses. 

The courses help bring out their best based on their personal strengths and talents while learning how they can integrate them into their everyday lives. Lifted by Purpose also works closely with experts from different fields to provide referrals and collaborate on initiatives that often provide trauma-informed care.

Royal Bey Media: Can you tell me about your Lifted By Purpose organization and it’s role in the Toronto community? 

Arifah Yusuf: Established in 2012, Lifted By Purpose is a Black-led trauma-informed creative enterprise. We are dedicated to increasing access to mental health and wellness education and support, focusing on utilizing the arts, lived experiences, therapy, capacity building, and innovation to increase meaningful education and healing practices, to increase the chances of young people and communities living productive and healthy lives. 

At Lifted By Purpose, we bring together the arts and mental health through transformative methods grounded in people’s external and internal reality; to truly impact lives. In Toronto, we provide a space for mainly young people to feel heard, access information, staff support, resources, and contribute to the broader community through sharing their stories and individual gifts.

Arifah Yusuf, Founder of Lifted By Purpose

Royal Bey Media: What programs does Lifted by Purpose offer and what populations are mostly served? 

Arifah Yusuf: Lifted By Purpose offers a wide range of programs. Still, the core ones are Lifted Thursdays – a trauma-informed music stress management program offered online or in person at SKETCH Working Arts Creative Hub, and Project P.U.S.H, a boxing program in partnership with Hardknocks Boxing Club in Toronto. 

Our organization mainly works with Black, Indigenous, and Racialized youth and communities with experience in the carceral system and living on the margins.We also provide Grief and Loss Healing Circles and facilitate training to Youth, Community Groups, and Educational Institutions on Mental Health First Aid, Trauma, Recovery and Self-Care, Empathy, and Healing Through Music, to name a few. As well capacity building opportunities for our Alumni to access personal and professional development skills courses and workshops to increase employment or entrepreneurial opportunities. 

Royal Bey Media: What was the inspiration behind starting Lifted By Purpose and incorporating music as a form therapy? 

Arifah Yusuf: Dissatisfied with the lack of accessible supports for Black, Indigenous and Racialized communities with lived experience in the justice system and those living in marginalized communities; living with diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health challenges, such as Depression, Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. LBP recognized the desire for youth and their families to excel and make positive and healthier choices in their lives but felt “stuck” due to lack of employment opportunities, feelings of hopelessness, and stigmatization associated with their past felonies; the communities’ reputation, and mental health challenges. 

In addition, many youths and families had difficulty forming and maintaining relationships due to a lack of trust, experiences with trauma, and beliefs that opposed sharing personal information. The inspiration behind Lifted Thursdays, our music stress management program came from both personal and professional lived experiences, knowing the healing benefits of music, to not only bring people together, but also to provide an outlet to express thoughts and emotions related to adversity and to celebrate moments. As well, provide a safer space to share lived experiences and drop gems (awareness and knowledge) on topics often not openly discussed in our communities, such as experiencing Mental Health and Substance Use challenges. 

Royal Bey Media: Can you explain why it is so important for the prison population and disadvantaged youth to receive mental health services in a supportive environment such as what your organization offers? 

Bizz Loc: “The importance of mental health services in a supportive environment such as Lifted By Purpose for the prison population is integral for a successful social reintegration. Life in prison, especially with the current climate, is gruelling and mentally taxing. Segregation,

having your identity stripped, separation from loved ones and the overall environment during incarceration are just a few factors which take a toll on your psychological well being. 

Regrettably, those without pre-existing disorders can develop them during incarceration and disorders within the prison system are often unrecognized. However, the connections and services in a supportive environment provide prisoners the opportunity to address stigmatized topics regarding their mental health. Furthermore, a supportive environment will decrease the prisoner’s chance of reoffending. 

There is unfortunately not a “cure” for mental health; but these services give prisoners the toolkit to cope. Disadvantaged youth are already faced with more challenges than the average youth. They are labelled and stereotyped at a young age. Rather than being reactive, a preventative step should be put forth. 

By providing disadvantaged youth with a supportive environment for their mental health; you are giving them the tools to deal with their hardship. Before they turn to violence or drugs – they are given the opportunity to deal with their hardships head on.” Bizz Loc Lifted By Purpose participant

Bizz Loc, Lifted By Purpose Participant

Royal Bey Media: Does the community that is served find your organization beneficial in their lives? If so, explain in further detail 

Arifah Yusuf: Yes, most definitely. Participants engaged in our programs and who attended one of our training or the Annual Tattoo Stories Exhibit often send positive messages and testimonials about the impact of our work in helping to be vulnerable and open about their mental health challenges and seek support. 

Most of our program and training referrals come from past participants and community partners who support and value our niche. In addition, many of our Alumni volunteer their time to help with self-care and emergency support initiatives, such as delivering gift cards and food baskets during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, we have received recognition from several media outlets and community awards for bringing awareness, education, and support regarding mental health using the arts and other therapeutic practices.

Royal Bey Media: Bizz Loc, how has Lifted By Purpose helped you in your personal life and artistry? 

Bizz Loc: “Lifted By Purpose helped me in my personal life and artistry in a multitude of ways. I was given the opportunity to listen to others stories and find common ground with strangers. I interacted with a vast array of different people while I was attending the [Lifted Thursdays – music stress management] program and gained insight on their lives, hardships and things that helped them.

Additionally, I broadened my view on music and what its purpose was for me. Through the [music stress management program], I heard the positive influence music had on multiple individuals. Music and artistry has always been my passion, but I shifted the purpose it had to me. I began to use music as my own personal outlet.” – Bizz Loc Lifted By Purpose Participant 

Royal Bey Media: What were your most teachable moments while attending the program? 

Bizz Loc: “The most teachable moments I learned through physically attending Lifted By Purpose were from the other people in attendance. I heard a considerable amount of stories, peoples lives, their background, how they got to where they were today. Through that and the entire experience, I learned how they armed themselves with the knowledge given and how I could also use that on my own journey. I learned the different impacts that music has on different individuals and decided to use that to propel my own personal growth. 

Shoutout to Arifah, Trini and Jelly for making that music program such an amazing experience. Thank you for making it so easy to communicate, interact, and express ourselves,” – Bizz Loc Lifted By Purpose Participant 

Royal Bey Media: With this month being Mental Health Awareness, can you explain how important it is to receive mental health services such as therapy and practice self care, even if you’re not diagnosed with a mental illness.

Lifted By Purpose says, “When you know your WHY everything else falls into place.” Everyone has endured adversity; it’s helped shape who we are in terms of our values and our decisions due to our thoughts, feelings, and experiences that often impact our behavior. 

Unfortunately, self-discovery throughout history has not always been promoted or encouraged within Black, Indigenous, and Racialized communities. Hence, through storytelling, music, dance, etc., the arts have been influential in our survival. Yet, awareness of self is key to identifying triggers, recognizing the signs and symptoms of feeling well and unwell, and knowing your support systems and Purpose. 

Therapy and self-care are integral to actively participating in self-maintenance and growth, rather than ignoring talking about mental health or contributing to toxic environments that isolate others from feeling comfortable to being vulnerable or seeking help, often leading to crises. Let’s “normalize” conversations about mental health and promote trauma-informed culturally responsive mental health services.

Make sure to follow Lifted By Purpose on Instagram @liftedbypurpose, follow Arifah Yusuf, the founder of (LBP) on Instagram @chiefmocha and visit the (LBP) website liftedbypurpose.com for more information.

Also, follow Bizz Loc on Instagram @bizzloc and check out his latest visual “P2P” below!

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