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Imagine Run: People Making a Difference

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Mona Stott reflecting on the Lonely Mile www.imaginementalhealth.com

September 26, 2015 marks the eighth annual Imagine Run to support mental health awareness. The event will kick off with a pyrotechnics display at 4:30 p.m. at Hespeler Park in Niverville, setting in motion hundreds of runners and walkers through the 5k or 10k courses. The park will host a full lineup of live entertainment, bouncy castles, a $5 barbecue, a Chinese lantern release, and an outdoor family movie. The purpose of the event is to erase the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide through public awareness.

Behind this worthy cause is a group of passionate volunteers, each touched in their own way by the suffering and tragedy of mental illness and suicide.

“Imagine for me is bittersweet,” says Mona Stott, co-founder of Imagine. “The process of saving lives is a constant reminder of my loss. It chose me. I didn’t choose it.”

Mona is no stranger to the pain and heartbreak of loving someone with a mental illness. Her mother battled depression through most of her adult years, as well as her husband, Jeff, in the early years of their marriage. It eventually took the life of their only son, Joey, just shy of his 25th birthday. This tragic loss finally brought the silence to an end.

Mona now talks openly about the veil that shadows depression and suicide. Mona was never told why her mother cried regularly, couldn’t function normally, and was in and out of institutions. Later, too, as Jeff struggled, depression was spoken of in hushed tones. “We couldn’t talk about it,” Mona says. “There was nowhere to turn for help.”

Until 1972, suicide was considered a criminal offence under Canadian law. The Roman Catholic Church also held a strict position on the matter, recognizing it as a mortal sin. They forbade funerals of suicide victims within their walls, and headstones were placed backwards, away from the rising sun. These ideals had a far-reaching effect, resulting in public shunning and marginalization for those affected by mental illness.

The term “committed suicide” still reflects that ignorance, bringing to mind people in healthy states of mind making choices to do harm, like committing a crime. “Died of suicide,” Mona says, “is a phrase that places the emphasis where it belongs, along with dying of other forms of illness like diabetes or heart disease.” 

Suicide is far from the only aspect of mental health needing to be addressed. A member of the Imagine team, Deryk Loeppky diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has years of experience with a medical system ill-equipped to deal with the vast numbers of mental health sufferers. He tells of treatment centres with consistently full waiting rooms, patients being rushed through “revolving door” treatments designed to make beds available, and a lack of follow-up programs. It’s not that the numbers of mental health sufferers have increased, Loeppky says, but that people are finally stepping out of the shadows.

A new billboard graces the city of Winnipeg with Imagine’s simple message: “We’re crazy not to talk about mental health.”

On the cusp of Mental Health Awareness week and World Suicide Prevention Day, Mona, Jeff, and the Imagine team ask for this community’s help in supporting and promoting mental health.

“People make the difference,” Jeff says, adding that the colle-ctive mobilization of numbers brings change, and that we must give sufferers a voice. “It begins with a ripple, and eventually every ripple reaches a shore.” 

How can you get involved? Help raise money for the cause, volunteer at the run, be a cheerleader for the runners along the route, and bring your family and friends to the many events planned for September 26. Throughout the year, you can talk to your children about mental health and suicide, reach out to a struggling neighbour, or offer a stranger hope.

Jeff has witnessed the impact of lives changed on a personal level. Among the handful of stories he tells is that of a father who approached him on the street after Imagine put down roots. “He told me, ‘Had it not been for Imagine, my son would be dead.’”

Let’s all make a decision for change by joining Jeff, Mona, and the Imagine team on September 26 at Hespeler Park. 

For more information

www.imaginementalhealth.com

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