Michael Swanston

Stepping up to the stigma

Campbell River women have organized an event to help defeat depression

Victoria Broker’s voice trembled as she courageously made a difficult admission to a packed city council chambers.

“I am a person with mental illness,” she said in a clear and confident voice.

“It’s been difficult for me to say in public but I’m beginning to feel that’s what I need to do and not feel ashamed about it anymore,” Broker added.

It’s people like Broker who are trying to break down the barriers surrounding mental illness.

Barbara Swanston, who lost her son Terry to suicide three years ago, has been trying to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness – the stigma which often prevents those struggling with their mental state from seeking help.

“Ninety per cent of people who complete suicide have a diagnosable mental illness but the stigma often stops those most at risk from getting help,” Swanston said at a council meeting May 7. “Have you ever not told someone something because you’re afraid of what they might think? Sure, we’ve all done that so it isn’t surprising that someone who is depressed or thinking about killing themself often doesn’t ask for help.”

Swanston’s purpose is to bring public awareness to mental illness so no one else will know the excruciating pain of losing a loved one to suicide. She said then she will know her son did not die in vain.

Swanston, along with local women Josie Laslo, Barb Kozeletski, and Lillian Woods (three of whom also lost a child to suicide) are organizing a walk this Sunday, Defeat Depression.

The walk begins at 11 a.m. at Robert Ostler Park near the ferry terminal and follows along the Island Highway up to Sequoia Park (across from the museum) before heading back to the ferry terminal. Anyone who would like to participate can register online at www.defeatdepression/campbellriver or on the day of the event at 10:30 a.m.

Participants have been collecting pledges, plus donations can also be made online at www.defeatdrepression/campbellriver or on the day of the walk. Pledges and online donations go towards the Mood Disorders Society while donations can be made at the walk to the BC Schizophrenia Society of Canada, which has a Campbell River chapter, and the local Beacon Club, which helps adults cope with mental illness.

Broker knows the importance and value of these types of services.

“I am the fortunate recipient of many years of treatment and support in this community,” Broker said. “I’m a person with mental illness who has had a lot of treatment. I am managing my illness very well and a lot of people with mental illness can.”

Broker said she’s thankful for people like Swanston who are standing up for people with mental illness and helping them to emerge from the shadows.

“I’ve been praying for someone like Barbara to come into our community because I’ve seen walks to eliminate racism, I’ve seen walks to eliminate homophobia and it’s time Campbell River, please, to recognize that people are suffering with mental illness and they won’t come for help because they’re ashamed or they’re lacking education,” Broker said.