In recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week from October 3 – 9, 2022, the Fort Frances branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) will be bringing back two beloved public events to help erase the stigma of mental illness.
CMHA Fort Frances will kick off their pair of activities with a free barbecue at their Portage Avenue location, and will follow that up with the return of the Steps Against Stigma 5K Glow Walk/Run. Both activities will be free to the public and will help to encourage open discussions of mental illnesses and reduce the stigma surrounding those who live with them.
CMHA Fort Frances director of services Pauline Hyatt shared that the events are as important now as they’ve ever been, particularly as society continues to emerge from the wreckage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects it has had on mental health across the country. However, she noted that while the battle against mental illness is never over, it seems like more people are beginning to recognize its importance in their day to day lives.
“Currently, more than 6.7 million people are living with a mental health condition in Canada,” Hyatt said.
“According to the World Health organization’s World Mental Health Report, published in June 2022, there were one billion people living with a mental disorder in 2019. Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community. During the early days of the pandemic people were reporting feeling more depressed and anxious than before; however, in the fourth wave of the pandemic an increasing number of Ontarians are confident in their ability to find mental health and addictions supports than in previous waves, and many of those who have received supports have found them helpful, according to Bell Let’s Talk. We are heading in the right direction.”
In order to continue the fight against those stigmas, as well as to promote more discussion and awareness, CMHA will first hold its free barbecue on Wednesday, October 5 from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., or whenever they run out of lunches to give out.
“The free barbecue has been a huge success in the past,” Hyatt said.
“We’re preparing 400 takeout bags for community members. We changed the hours this year to try and have bagged lunches available for those that are working so that by the time they come here on their lunch, there are actually still bags left. We’ve definitely run out in the past.”
Hyatt said each bag will also have some additional literature on mental health awareness, including coping strategies for dealing with different stressors during the pandemic.
Following the barbecue, the Steps Against Stigma 5K Glow Walk/Run will take place at the Sorting Gap Marina, with opening ceremonies planned for 6:45 p.m. and the walk proper beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 6. This year will mark the first time since 2019 that CMHA has been able to hold the outdoor event due to COVID-19, and Hyatt said they are very excited to be able to bring the popular event back to the community.
“This marks the seventh annual Steps Against Stigma Glow Walk/Run,” she explained.
“This year – we’ve never had this before – you can register online. That’s a new feature. You can still register in person, but online it’s at our website fortfrances.cmha.ca.”
Everyone is invited to register to take part in the Steps Against Stigma Glow Walk/Run and dress the part with all sorts of glowing or light-up accessories. There will be prizes available to participants who dress up, with categories including best individual glow, best pet and best group. In addition, a Kenora-area business has contributed something special for this year’s event.
“We were approached by Brennan’s Jewellers in Kenora and they’ve donated a diamond necklace valued at $600,” Hyatt said.
“That’s going to be our door prize.”
Hyatt stressed that CMHA Fort Frances is available and open to everyone, with a bevy of programs aimed at helping anyone from any walk of life who is struggling with mental illness.
“We really are here to help,” Hyatt said.
“We offer peer support, case management, counselling for older adults, housing support, psychogeriatric resources, court diversion and mobile crisis support. In the last year we’ve added a safe bed program and we also work alongside the RAAM (Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine) clinic as well. We have lots to help, and we just want people to know we’re here.”
There’s been a shift in the way society appears to be approaching mental health in recent years, perhaps spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Hyatt noted in the statistics she shared, the most recent wave of the pandemic suggests that Ontarians have been more open and active seeking mental health support than they have in the past. Hyatt said it’s encouraging as a mental health professional to see that the overall attitudes towards mental health and seeking support for mental health could be changing.
“We’re definitely shifting into a more holistic perspective of mind, body and spirit,” she said.
“In order to truly be well, we have to consider our mental health. They’re teaching this in the schools, it’s out there in the community. We’re in a better situation nowadays to respond, to be more proactive and to work together. This is a positive change and we’re acknowledging that mental health is so important just as physical health is.”
For more information about CMHA, Mental Illness Awareness Week, or the events scheduled for it, visit the CMHA Fort Frances website at fortfrances.cmha.ca.