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Mothers who lost children to take a walk to remember

Four Campbell River women who lost a child to suicide are staging a walk to raise money for mental health organizations

Four Campbell River women are dealing with the grief of losing a child in the best way they know how – by keeping their children’s memory alive.

Barbara Swanston was heartbroken after her son Terry took his own life in August, 2010 in the grip of a deep depression.

She turned to a local support group, Compassionate Friends, where she met and bonded with Barb Kozeletski, Josie Laslo and Lillian Woods over the loss of their children – two to suicide.

“Barb and I lost our kids pretty close to each other and we connected over that,” Swanston says. “Barb, Josie, Lillian and I started talking and we felt like we wanted to be able to do something to keep our children’s memory alive.”

The women, along with the help of Laslo’s daughter Christina Laslo, discovered Defeat Depression, a Canada-wide walk to help raise awareness of mental illness.

“We thought maybe we could look into doing something like that,” Swanston says. “We went online and saw that their goals were aligned with what we wanted to achieve.”

For these four women, that goal is to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness – a stigma so strong that Swanston’s son Terry refused to seek professional help despite encouragement from those closest to him.

“People don’t go for help because of the stigma,” Swanston says. “I know my son didn’t go for help because of the stigma. When his wife and his friends, one of whom was a social worker, tried to line up help for him, he wouldn’t.

“We tend to think a mental illness is something people have control over, that sometimes it’s their fault, whereas a physical illness we’re much more compassionate about,” Swanston adds.

“There’s a lot of fear around mental illness, there’s a lot of fear around admitting you have a mental illness because it’s seen as a sign of weakness. We rally around physical illnesses, such as cancer, but we shy away from mental illness and really it can happen to any one of us.”

Defeat Depression is about communities and families coming together to take on and defeat the negative stigma around depression and other mood disorders.

Campbell River’s event will be one of the few that is community-driven.

“We’re just trying to find our way,” Swanston says. “Most events are organized by mental health organizations, only three or four are organized by people in the community like us.”

But already local groups are on board.

The Campbell River branch of the BC Schizophrenia Society as well as the Campbell River Beacon Club, which helps adults with mental illness, are both in support of the Defeat Depression event.

On the day of the walk, participants can make donations directly to both organizations.

Participant pledges for the walk will go towards the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, an “incredible organization” according to Swanston that helps those affected by mental illness.

The Defeat Depression walk takes place Sunday, May 26 at 11 a.m. starting at Robert Ostler Park near the ferry terminal. The walk follows along the Island Highway up to Sequoia Park (across from the museum) and back to the ferry terminal.

Those interested can register for the walk online at www.defeatdepression/campbellriver or register the day of the event at 10:30 a.m.

T-shirts are available online or at the walk for $15, with proceeds going to the Mood Disorders Society.

“If we get even 50 people, I will be thrilled,” Swanston says. “Really what we’re looking for is people to come out and participate and raise awareness by getting some community involvement.”

And this is just the first of what Swanston, Kozeletski, Laslo and Woods hope to be many more events to come.

“The group is just keeping our eyes and ears open for what will be the next step for what we’re trying to accomplish and that’s opening people’s hearts,” Swanston said. “This is just a launching event. We want to do more, we just don’t know what yet.”