Vancouver, BC – The “Stigma Slayers” are back. Vancouver Coastal Health’s sixth annual Walk-A-Mile for Mental Health event returns Thursday to raise awareness and celebrate the resilience of its community.
Clients and mental health professionals team up every year to organize the event and carry on the legacy of the original Walk-A-Mile, which was a fixture at Riverview Hospital for more than two decades. Throughout its iterations, the goal of Walk-A-Mile has never changed: Bring people together to celebrate mental health and focus on the positives by eliminating barriers and stereotypes.
“Stigma can be incredibly isolating and is one of the most significant challenges people living with mental health issues experience,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We are calling on all British Columbians to step up and help create a stigma-free B.C. Events like Walk-A-Mile provide the perfect opportunity to break down the walls of silence through courageous conversations so that people are not afraid to seek the help they need.”
Calling themselves the “Stigma Slayers”, the Walk-A-Mile team is made up of VCH staff and clients – including residents of Vancouver Coastal Health’s (VCH) Willow Pavilion, which provides specialized in-depth wellness and recovery-based services for people with serious mental illness – that feel strongly about keeping the spirit of the original walk alive. On top of organizing and volunteering at the event, clients helped design the logos and T-shirts for the walk and set its theme: Mental Wellness for All.
“A recovery journey for mental wellness is important to me,” said Elena, a client at the Willow Pavilion, “to get well and be able to live a happy, productive life.”
The Mental Wellness for All slogan was chosen because it illustrates how understanding of mental wellness and recovery can create compassion and hope. Most people living with a mental illness are peaceful members of the community. And although one in five Canadian experience mental illness, negative stereotypes often affect how people perceive them and that stigma can become a major barrier to treatment.
“Awareness of the stigmas around mental health and the need to fight harmful stereotypes has never been greater, and the clients and staff that organize Walk-a-Mile play an important role in that,” said Monica McAlduff, VCH’s director of mental health and substance use for Vancouver acute. “Year after year, the event proves that community and positive relationships trump fear and ignorance for people on the path to mental wellness.”
Coinciding with the event this year is the second anniversary of VCH’s Access and Assessment Centre (AAC). The 24/7 walk-in centre was established in 2016 to better serve people seeking mental health and substance use services and is staffed year-round by a team of registered nurses, psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists and social workers who can help clients in their moment of need. In addition to booked appointments, the AAC averages more than 100 walk-ins a week and now regularly eclipses the number of mental health-related emergency department visits at nearby Vancouver General Hospital, helping alleviate volumes there.
“Two years after opening our doors, we have been able to develop a walk-in Access and Assessment Centre that has provided enhanced mental health access to thousands of Vancouver residents,” said Georgina Maddern, manager of the AAC. “The centre is a new, approachable way for people to access mental health services. We encourage anyone who is struggling with a mental health issue or is concerned about a loved one to reach out. We’re here 24/7, in person or over the phone.”
This year’s Walk-A-Mile begins Thursday at 10 a.m. at the greenspace next to the AAC at the Joseph & Rosalie Segal & Family Health Centre, 803 West 12th Avenue. Speeches are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. and the 1.6-kilometre walk around the Vancouver General Hospital campus starts at 11 a.m. Entertainment will be provided by the Pennington Hall Band, which is comprised of psychologists from across VCH. There will also be several food trucks on site.
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.3 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. VCH also provides highly specialized care and services for people throughout BC, and is the province’s hub of health care education and research.
To help people confront stigma around mental health in their own lives, the Stigma Slayers offer these tips:
- Talk openly about mental health. The more we talk about it, the more we can help people understand what mental health and wellness is.
- Be cautious of the language we use. Language matters. Refrain from language that is demeaning or use conditions as adjectives.
- It starts with you! Stigma is fought one step at a time. Change how you talk, act and think of others with mental health conditions.
Public Affairs Specialist
Vancouver Coastal Health
Cell: (604) 833-4541