A lot can change in a year. You can move to a new city, or quit a bad habit. You can change your health, or even learn something new. One small advertisement pinned on a poster board could be all it takes for your life to change forever.
It was a fateful moment like this that led Suzanne to volunteer with L’Abri en Ville at a time in her life when she was looking to learn something new. She recalls it as a time when “mental illness was still in the closet.” One day when inspiration struck, she realized the impact that a walk for mental illness could have in the community. It was a big project, though, that L’Abri en Ville couldn’t take on alone, so Suzanne rallied support and participation from a number of small community organizations and together, they formed the Montreal Walks for Mental Health Foundation. They tied their resources together, brought the walk to life, and in turn, brought a decade of progressive change to Montreal.
Fast forward to today, and things have changed remarkably. There’s increased awareness and discussion taking place, although stigma continues to be a huge problem for people living with mental illness. Every single day of the year, people who have experienced mental illness walk through life facing the problematic barriers of stigma that undermine their sense of self and well-being. These individuals, their families, and health professionals continue to get together each fall, proving they can make a difference through raising awareness. And each year they ask the greater Montreal community to join in and walk together in the spirit of oneness to conquer stigma.
It’s more than just a walk, though. It is an opportunity to fund the next year of change. Suzanne is so proud that this is a grassroots effort to get everyone involved, no matter what individuals can afford to contribute. It allows people to be a part in propelling the mission of the foundation forward, with no economic barriers, so everyone can be a part of the solution. The money raised provides grants for small community groups so they can plan small programs that are difficult to have funded by the government or businesses, who typically only fund big projects. In the past, the grants have funded workshops for family caregivers, workshops on sexuality for people living with mental health challenges, and training for peer mentors.
2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the annual Montreal Walks for Mental Health, but in this time the walk has not attracted enough of the french community’s participation. With this year’s new east-end location, Suzanne hopes to see a wider audience, including students, CEGEPs, and more francophones. In the next decade, she dreams of expanding the walk to cities across Canada, including Toronto and Ottawa. In the meantime, though, she’ll be happy if the number of participants continues to grow year after year, increasing the funds available for community programs and further expanding the awareness of mental health issues in Montreal.
With more diversity in the population of participants, just imagine the changes coming in the next 10 years. This walk is breaking down barriers, building hope and raising funds for mental health. Thank you Suzanne and the strong committee of volunteers who make it all happen.