For the first time, Canadians are being asked to use their judgment and artistic flair to vote on a design for a new postage stamp, all in an effort to raise awareness and funds for mental illness.
For the next month, Canadians will be able to vote for their favourite design from a group of five stamps that have been chosen as finalists. The winner will become the 2011 Mental Health stamp.
"It's a great opportunity to have people look at them and have people learn about the issue," Canada Post spokeswoman Cindy Daoust said.
Canada Post decided to focus on mental illness starting in 2008 and created the Canada Post Foundation for Mental Health. Each year a mental health stamp has been created, and the sale of those stamps from 2008 to 2010 raised nearly $1 million for the foundation.
One dollar from each of the booklets of stamps sold went toward the foundation.
Canadians sent in more than 300 submissions between the launch of the competition in November and Jan. 10. The individual whose design was the most popular online won an iPad and a spot as one of the 20 semifinalists.
During the first phase of the competition, the site received a half-million hits as people looked at the designs and voted.
A panel of judges then selected another 19 submissions.
The Stamp Advisory Committee, a national group that usually chooses stamps, selected the top five designs. The designers were from Toronto, London and Courtice, Ont. and Terrebonne, Que.
"The designs are quite stunning," Daoust said.
"They each tell a story about mental illness. They tell the stories of how important it is to speak about this, and anytime we're talking about it, we're helping to reduce the stigma."
Daoust said the foundation was created with the aim of raising money for community groups helping people with mental illness and reducing the stigma.
"While funding is very important ... we also know stigma is the No. 1 reason people don't ask for that help," she said, adding the fact that the mental health stamp would be viewed by many would help in that effort.
Canadians have until midnight March 14 to vote for their favourite designs. They can cast one vote per day for each design.
To view the five designs and vote, visit the website deliverhope.ca. The winner will be announced in April.