Left to right: Stephanie Olfutt, Laura Mealedy.

Walk-A-Mile to help stamp out the stigma of mental illness

About 300 VCH staff, volunteers, clients and families took part in the fifth annual Walk-A-Mile for Mental Health on May 4th, 2017 at Vancouver General Hospital. The sun was shining, the music was energizing, and the stories from mental health clients were inspiring. Truthfully, there was just as much talking as walking, and that’s a good thing. Because talking about mental illness is the first step in reducing the stigma attached to it.

VCH Deputy Medical Director Dr. J.J. Sidhu says one in five Canadians suffers from a significant mental health disorder. It affects families, relationships and impairs one’s ability to secure housing and hold down a job. In many cases he says, the condition is treatable, but we must overcome the stigma that exists in society, families, and in our own selves. “Some people look at mental illness as a character flaw, rather than an illness,” says Dr. Sidhu. “Fortunately attitudes are changing, and events like Walk-A-Mile for Mental Health create the momentum for change.”

Mental health to mental wealth

Guest speaker Kagan Goh outlined his journey through the mental health system, beginning when he was diagnosed with manic depression and bipolar disorder in 1993.  “Being diagnosed with a mental illness is not necessarily a curse, it can be a gift. It awakens spirituality and compassion.” Kagan spoke about the importance of the “health” component of mental health, noting that once he made his health a priority, other parts of his life fell into place. “For me, it has been a journey from mental health to mental wealth,” says Kagan.

Left to right: Dr. J.J. Sidhu (Deputy Medical Director of Psychiatry), Kagan Goh (guest speaker), Ellen (Willow Pavilion client).

The history of Walk-A-Mile

Walk-A-Mile for Mental Health first began at Riverview Hospital in 1990 as part of Mental Health Week, which brought together staff, clients, family members and the community. At its peak, the walk attracted more than 1,500 participants from as far away as Squamish and Chilliwack. When Riverview closed and tertiary services moved to regional health authorities, a number of devoted staff, including those at Willow Pavilion, worked hard to keep the walk alive.

Denice Hamel helped organize the walk when she worked at Willow. She was back this year with daughter Ella in her arms. “It’s a fabulous event,” says Denice.

Special thanks to the Willow Pavilion Mental Health Week Planning Committee for making this year’s walk a success. See you next year!

Left to right: Denice Hamel and her daughter Ella.

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