Kelowna resident grows beard, awareness of mental illness

A 7-and-a-half inch long beard was the tool Aaron Forsyth used to raise money and awareness for the B.C. Schizophrenia Society.

(From left) Kurtis Jacques

A seven-and-a-half inch long beard was the tool Aaron Forsyth used to raise money and awareness for the Kelowna branch of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society.

After his brother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 2011, Forsyth decided it would be a good idea to do something unique to help raise money for the cause.

Though he’d never sported a beard previously, he began to grow out his facial hair and used it as a conversation starter to talk about what his brother was going through and why he was raising money.

He said those conversations allowed him to break down misconceptions about the disease, and were often equally as valuable as the donations themselves.

“I started learning there are different types of Schizophrenia and there are different types of issues (Schizophrenic patients) deal with,” said Forsyth.

Through his own efforts and a fundraiser held at Forsyth’s place of work, World Financial Group, he was able to collect more than $2,700 for the BCSS Kelowna branch.

World Financial Group matched those funds and another $500 donation from senior marketing director Kurtis Jacques put the total raised at about $6,000

Members of the BCSS Kelowna branch were at World Financial Group Thursday to accept the donation.

Vern Kennedy, treasurer of the BCSS—Kelowna, said the money will go toward education.

“It’ll be directed toward our education programs for people recovering from mental illness,” said Kennedy.

“We also do education programs for the public, so they understand and are more sympathetic and open to people with illnesses and avoid stigma.”

David Madison, board member of the BCSS—Kelowna, said the ultimate goal is changing people’s misconceptions about mental illness.

“Alfred Hitchcock made a great film called ‘Psycho.’ It’s a wonderful film, but it didn’t do us much good,” said Madison, adding media coverage of criminals who suffer from mental illnesses has the same effect.

“It damages us—we have to overcome this type of adverse publicity.”

He noted many famous people through history—such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill—suffered from mental illness.

“There’s nothing wrong with the intellectual part of people who suffer from mental illness. (That’s the message) we have to bring to the public.”

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com