Members of the Harrison Highlanders came out to support the Defeat Depression walk

Mental health awareness walk doubles in size

Time to defeat depression stigma, says Harrison/Agassiz walk organizer

In the not-so-distant future, Andrea McRae can imagine a society where there is no stigma attached to mental illness.

“I would bet you that in 20 years, depression is more accepted,” she said. “Little by little it will be like other diseases.”

McRae is the organizer of the Defeat Depression walk in the Agassiz and Harrison area, held on Sunday. While the rain fell down on walkers and runners as they beat a 5.5 km path around the lagoon, their spirits remained high.

About 70 people registered in this year’s event, and even more showed up to lend their support. In total, they managed to raise about $3,500 — double what they raised at last year’s inaugural event.

The money will go toward the Mood Disorders of Canada Society, a non-profit that helps organize the run/walks across the country.

McRae chose to get involved and start the local event last year, partly because of her own history with mental health. But more than that, she wants to lift the veil on depression and let others know that it’s okay to have depression.

“It’s all about accepting it,” she says. “It’s understanding that it’s not because you’re making bad decisions, it’s not because you just can’t get a grip. It’s accepting the fact it’s an illness… no different than a physical disease.”

McRae knows how difficult it can be to live with depression. But organizing the walk isn’t about her own illness.

“I do this not to wave a placard and say look at me I’m the mom of someone who died of suicide and that I’m someone with a mental illness,” she says. “I’m here to honour all of us.”

MDCS reports that of all those with mental illness in the world, 75% will never receive any treatment, and estimates that 450 million people worldwide have mental or neurological disorders.

In Canada, one in five people will have a mental illness in their lifetime, and 10% of Canadians are dealing with mental illness at any given time. Mental illness is an overarching term for numerous illnesses that cause “serious disturbance in thoughts, feelings and perceptions that is severe enough to affect day to day functioning.”

They include schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorder, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder.”

They are all diagnosable disorders, but can also go untreated. Often, people succumb to their illness and commit suicide.

Of the top three violent suicides around the world, suicide claims the highest rate at 49%.(Homicide and war-related deaths place lower at 31% and 18%.)

And in Canada, 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness.

Locally, the walk has had the support of MP Mark Strahl since it began last year.

He contacted McRae when he heard about it, and signed up and walked along the small group that gathered last year. This year, he was scheduled to be in Ottawa in the afternoon but stopped in briefly to speak to the crowd.

“Mental health is something I’m very passionate about, I work with the National Defence Committee and right now we’re studying PTSD and care and we’ve talked a lot about mental illness,” Strahl said.

Mental health over-arcs all different health care issues, including other health problems and even aging, he pointed out.

Mostly, he underlined the importance that mental health be taken seriously, and respected.

“No one questions your character if you have high blood pressure or you break your arm or you have diabetes,” he said. “But there are still questions about your fortitude if you suffer from mental illness.”

Mental illness touches every family, he said, but help is there for those who seek it.

He then added words of comfort to his speech, before leaving for Ottawa.

“It’s okay if you have mental illness, we’re going to rally around you as if you had any other illness.”

Having Strahl’s support, as a speaker and as a registered walker, means a lot of McRae.

She said she will continue to organize the walk for the area, and when no longer able, is confident someone else will pick up the torch.

“You don’t always feel like smiling,” she said. “But (during the walk) there is almost a camaraderie. It’s a safe place.”

To learn more about mental health, visit To access services locally, call Community Services at 604-796-2585.




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