Breaking down barriers: mental health

Advocate has been a champion for mental health awareness

No one is immune from mental illness, says suicide awareness advocate Barbara Swanston.

“Mental illness is still very much misunderstood and there is a lot of stigma surrounding it,” Swanston says. “Yet one-in-four people will experience a mental illness.”

For Swanston, the statistic is one that’s close to her heart.

Since Swanston’s son Terry took his own life four years ago – at the age of 29 – Swanston has been a champion for mental health awareness and for encouraging people to “come out from the shadows,” speak up about their feelings and seek help.

As part of her efforts, Swanston is hosting an open discussion at the Campbell River library on May 5, 6:30 p.m., as part of Mental Health Awareness month. She will be joined by Victoria Broker who lives with mental illness every day but is thriving with proper treatment.

Swanston says the talk is aimed at breaking down barriers and overcoming the stigma and lack of understanding that prevents many people from seeking treatment.

“Victoria and I want to facilitate an open conversation which will help shine a light on our beliefs, misconceptions and the stigma,” Swanston says. “We want to help open people’s hearts so they can open their minds to the reality that everyone has mental health – if you have a brain you have mental health – and no one is immune to the possibility of mental illness.”

During the month of May, the Canadian Mental Health Association wants people to ask themselves, are you ‘phine’ or ‘fine’?

Fine is saying you’re fine and you are while phine is saying you’re fine when you’re really  not. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, everyone has mental health but not everyone has good mental health – a state of well-being “in which you realize your own abilities, can work and study productively and are able to make a contribution to your family and community.”

Swanston says because of the stigma, too many people are often afraid or ashamed to admit they don’t have good mental health.

“Too often people claim to be feeling fine when they do not,” she says. “The result? Approximately seven million Canadians – 20 per cent of the population – live with mental illness. And many do not seek treatment because of the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health problems.

“We want to use Canadian Mental Health Association’s platform to build awareness around mental health issues and help change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards mental health and mental illness issues,” Swanston says.

In addition to Swanston and Broker’s upcoming session at the library, the pair are also hosting Campbell River’s second annual Defeat Depression Walk which takes place Sunday, May 25 at Robert Ostler Park next to the BC Ferry terminal.

The 2.5 kilometre walk begins at 11 a.m. with registration beginning at 9:30 a.m. A warm-up from 10:15-10:45 a.m. with Ocean Mountain Yoga will get participants raring to go. Donations of $15 per adult and $10 per student will go towards the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and the Campbell River Beacon Club which helps adults cope with mental illness.