Dozens of walkers were out last year in support of the Defeat Depression movement. This year's event happens May 25.

Time to stamp out stigma

Mental health issues aren't a choice, says walk organizer

Every time celebrity speaks up about personal mental health issues, a little bit of the stigma is erased.

And it’s happening with such frequency, that it gives Andrea McRae even more hope that eventually people will see health problems like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia in the same light they diabetes, cancer or MS.

But even more importantly, McRae said, every time she and her friends rally together to hold a Defeat Depression walk in Agassiz and Harrison, it lets people in this very community know that they are not alone.

“Mental health issuess are no different than physical health issues,” she said. “No one chooses to be schizophrenic any more than they chose to be diabetic.”

She said that when anyone — famous or not — comes forward to openly state they suffer from a mental health issue, everyone benefits.

“It does take someone coming out and being brave enough to do that, and that’s why these walks are important.

Agassiz and Harrison is one of only two dozen walks across Canada planned this year. Only three of those are planned in British Columbia, with the others being in Penticton and Campbell River. The walks are a fundraiser to support the work of local non-profit organizations who provide much needed support and services for individuals and families faced with depression, mood disorders, and mental illness.

However, McRae said there is no entry fee, with the emphasis being on participation and inclusion.

“They do raise funds and people have been very generous here but it is not the primary goal,” she said. “It’s coming out and just being together as a group.”

Signup is available beforehand online (www.defeatdepression.ca) and at the event itself.

She wants others to know that they are welcome to come out and take part by walking along with them, even if it’s just one lap of the lagoon. Others may find comfort simply by watching the event, and knowing that someone out there is rooting for them. McRae is encouraging people to create placards and signs this year, to announce who they are walking for.

“There is hope,” she said. “You not in this bottomless pit. A lot of people with depression and mental health issues try very hard to be something they’re not. But it’s okay now to recognize that you’re depressed.”

McRae started the walk locally a few years ago, as a way to help her cope with her own mental health issues. Like many others in this community, her family has suffered through the grief of suicide.

She is hoping the walk is just one way to reach out to others in pain.

‘It would be really easy to let this event dwindle off and then it goes back into the closet,” she said. “But here we are and we aren’t going to go away.”

This year’s Defeat Depression Walk is on the morning of Sunday, May 25. Like last year, the walk will begin across from Muddy Waters at the Harrison Lagoon, and participants can take as many laps as they like. There will be music by the Harrison Highlanders and the Sam Taylor Community Singers, along with a silent auction and giveaways.

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