Each year, nearly 4,000 Canadians die from suicide. Most have suffered from at least one mental health disorder, and many do not feel comfortable enough with their illness to approach friends, family or physicians for help.
In the last few decades we’ve become more and more accepting of many different human conditions. However, there remains a stigma surrounding mental illness. Thousands of Canadians suffer in silence and many do not feel comfortable coming forward and seeking help. Fearing negative labels, like “psycho” and “crazy”, many people instead shun the proper treatments. This can end, heartbreakingly, with loss of life.
Danielle Berman, a resident of Dundas, Ontario, tragically lost her father to suicide in 1999 after a long battle with mental illness. In his honor, as he was an avid cyclist, she courageously took up the cause and undertook a bike ride from Vancouver, BC to Hamilton, Ontario in 2014 to raise money and work towards diminishing the stigma of mental illness.
Danielle symbolically began and ended the journey astride her father’s Cannondale; a bike he had purchased to compete in the world masters games in Denmark in 1989. For the remainder of the ride she was aboard her Trek Domane. She trained for the ride, with the help of a bike coach, who prepared her by giving her a regime of distance rides, sprint rides as well as cross training. She says that rolling back into her hometown of Dundas, Ontario to a crowd of cheering fans and supporters was one of the most memorable parts of the ride.
“The ride was the most incredible experience of my life” said Danielle via email correspondence, “My father loved adventures and cycling so I thought it would be a great way to honour him and give me the ability to reach a greater number of people. “
Mental health issues can be as or more debilitating than physical health issues. But we are generally more adept at accommodating people with physical health problems than mental health problems.
“It is important to be open to others and non-judgemental” says Berman, “Just being there to listen can be so helpful and you don’t need to have all the right answers.”
While she is home now, and happily recovered from the effort of the ride, Danielle does miss being on the road and connecting with people every day. To build on this positive energy she has created an annual 10k and 50k ride in Hamilton for World Suicide Prevention day. This event will kick off on the morning Sunday September 25th.
This year she has also announced a second ride – with the launch of a ride in Squamish BC. This ride will take place a bit earlier on September 18th in the Nordic Legacy Park.
“I would like to thank everyone that has reached out and supported Ride Away Stigma. I would not have been able to get through all that distance last year without the support and I am so thankful for the continued support with this year’s ride.”
In 2015 Ride Away Stigma raised over $10,000 dollars. Funds raised will go to the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Canada which focusses on education, training, community awareness, stigma reduction and advocacy. This year the fundraising goal is $15,000. If you are touched by Danielle’s story or cause you can make a contribution at the following link.
“No one should ever suffer behind closed doors for fear of judgment, humiliation, or damage to reputation. It is now my mission to help remove the stigma associated with mental illness and to encourage open discussion about it. I want to help others feel comfortable seeking help and to find their voice when all seems lost.”
For more on this initiative please see Danielle’s website at www.rideawaystigma.com.
All photos courtesy of Danielle Berman