Defeat Depression events took place in over two dozen communities across Canada on Sunday to raise awareness about mental illness, reduce stigma, and to encourage Canadians to become more involved with their mental well being.
In Campbell River people gathered under mostly sunny skies; first in ones and twos as volunteers from the Beacon Club, BC Schizophrenia Society, Peer Support Workers from VIHA Mental Health and Substance Abuse and others came to help set up tables, put up banners, and generally arrange everything. Then they began arriving in threes, fours, and groups larger still as those who were participating in support Campbell River’s first Defeat Depression Walk started to arrive.
The organizers were hoping for at least 50 participants. They were surprised and delighted when over 165 people came to show their support and help shine a light on depression, an illness that is regarded by many as shameful and something best not talked about.
Just before the 11 a.m. start, Barbara Swanston, one of the organizers spoke to the crowd.
She told them she was there because she had lost her son, Terry, to suicide in August 2010, a result of suffering from a profound depression. She said he would not go for help because he felt ashamed and worthless, a typical result of the stigma that keeps people silent. Two other organizers have children who died by suicide and all of organizing committee have experience with mental illness either themselves or close family members.
Unlike cancer or diabetes, depression and suicide are still not talked about openly as the topic makes many people uncomfortable. Telling a friend that a loved one has died by suicide can get a much different reaction than if they had died of a stroke or cancer. Often there is just silence as people don’t know what to say.
Swanston pointed out that there is a difference between mental health and mental illness. If you have a brain, you have mental health (we all have mental health) and anyone can fall victim to mental illness – a disruption in their mental health.
She went on to say that like any other serious illness, depression can be fatal and the fatality is by suicide. People complete suicide to end their unendurable pain yet society often judges them as weak or selfish. Tragically, many other major illnesses, that have seen death rates lowered in the last hundred years, suicide is on the rise.
Then Swanston introduced Kelly Paul whose group Heliset Hale (Awaken the Life Within You) Marathon came to support the walk. They are running the length of Vancouver Island to raise awareness about suicide and create a message of hope and encouragement to cherish life came to give their support. They will be in Campbell River May 29 – June 2 (visit www.helisethalemarathon.com). Paul lost her brother to suicide four years ago. He was 17.
In conclusion, Swanston said that people are reluctant to talk about or mention the names of those lost to suicide. She asked people to take a moment of silence to remember a loved one they had lost to suicide or any means. The crowd fell silent and there were tears in many eyes as they remembered lost loved ones. Then she asked people to turn to someone in the crowd and say that name out loud. She spoke the names of her son, Terry, and also Greg, Josie Laslo’s son, and Hayden, Barb Kozeletski’s daughter, who also died by suicide. Josie and Barb are fellow organizers.
Then a sea of blue Defeat Depression T-shirts and posters began the 4 km. walk from the longhouse at Robert V. Ostler Park to Sequoia Park opposite Campbell River Museum and back.