Letters to the Editor

Overcoming mental health stigma needs media support

To the editor:

On Oct. 18, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Kelowna branch, had the privilege of seeing over 120 citizens of Kelowna come together in support of the Ride Don’t Hide world tour, battling the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.

In August 2010, Michael Schratter, a Grade 5 teacher from Vancouver who grew up here in the Okanagan, began his global dream of cycling 40,000 km around the world.  His mission was to circumnavigate the world sharing stories with people in different countries, and in doing so, bring attention and awareness to the stigma surrounding mental illness.  When we learned several months ago that the Ride Don’t Hide tour was coming through the Okanagan, we didn’t have to look far to find Kelowna citizens willing to sign up to support him.

As we reflect on the event that just passed, there are two things that are particularly noteworthy.  The first was the unprecedented and positive response of Kelowna’s business community who rose up and used their voices and their resources to stand with the Canadian Mental Health Association in this campaign.

This event was a success because so many people and their businesses made the effort to do something that will make a difference.

Michael’s goal of raising $100,000 for child and youth mental health initiatives will likely be achieved and his dream of raising awareness about mental illness has certainly created buzz through social media and word of mouth.  However, our local media did not step up. There was a glaring lack of media despite significant efforts to get them on-board.

While we acknowledge and are grateful for the media who helped to promote the Kelowna Reception for Michael (most notably, Castanet, CBC radio, Global Okanagan, AM1150 and Q103.1FM), we remain disappointed that our local media did not take advantage of the opportunity to come to celebrate Michael’s incredible global achievement and be a part of reducing the stigma about mental illness, which impacts every single Canadian whether we are aware of it or not.

Mental illness directly impacts over seven million Canadians.  That’s one in five.  However, everyone knows a friend, family member or colleague who has needlessly suffered with mental illness.

It’s astounding to know that approximately 50 per cent of those who have mental health issues never seek treatment because of the stigma surrounding the illness.  The sad fact is that most people experience a full and productive life with effective treatment and supports.

Mental illness is one of the last taboos of our society!  In 2011, people will freely talk about almost anything, but where mental health issues are concerned there are still unacceptable levels of fear and ignorance.

We can actually do something about this. Events like Ride Don’t Hide and talking to guys like Michael Schratter creates such a powerful message about why this cause is so critical.

Thank you to everyone who is willing to talk about mental health and mental illness as two ends of the same continuum.

On behalf of the board, staff, volunteers and participants of CMHA’s programs and services, thank you to those who supported Michael Schratter and RideDontHide.com.

Shelagh Turner,

executive director,

Kelowna branch,

Canadian Mental Health Association

 

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