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Taking 'steps' against stigma

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The record turnout for “Steps Against Stigma” shows more and more residents are joining the fight to end the stigma of mental illness and open up the topic for discussion.

Hosted by the Fort Frances branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the fifth-annual 1K/5K walk/run drew more than 160 people to the Sorting Gap Marina last Wednesday evening—many of whom felt strongly about the cause.

“I want people to know that they don't have to worry about the stigma of mental illness because everybody has a problem and we've just got to share it,” said Donna Bohler.

“It's important to talk about it,” she stressed.

“We have both family and friends that do have mental health issues, and they have struggled with being accepted due to the stigma around them," noted Tera Boettcher, who had her dog, "Jemma,” run alongside her.

“We just want to support the cause," she added, noting it was her first time taking part in "Steps Against Stigma.”

Another first-time participant was Wendy DeGagne.

“I know a lot of people that are dealing with mental illnesses and addictions, and it's time that we erased the stigma and helped one another,” she remarked.

Allene Perusse said she and several other participants at “Steps Against Stigma” work in fields where they deal with mental illness daily.

“It's important to recognize the people in our own community,” she noted.

"We should just be helping each other out.

“I have a brother who's schizophrenic and so it has affected my family personally,” said Jennifer Johnson, who participated alongside her daughters, Aubrey and Ainsley.

“There needs to be more acceptance for people,” she added.

“I think this is a great because it kind of brings the awareness to everyone in town or any community,” echoed Shane Carriere.

“It brings people together.”

“Especially in this area, there's a lot of mental health issues,” added his friend, Jesse Lefleche.

“It's good to show your support," he added. "We've had our own mental health issues and it's our way of giving back.”

“It's nice to know there's a lot of people here who feel the same way, or are supporters of wanting to help or make a difference,” agreed Carriere.

“It's difficult for someone to go and approach someone else. You never know who you can talk to,” he added.

“It's nice to be in an environment when you feel that comfort, that acceptance.”

With 100 people registering in advance of the event, and dozens more showing up that evening, organizers were ecstatic with how popular it was.

“We had over 160 people—best numbers ever,” enthused Nancy Daley Fulton, who helped run the event along with CMHA-FF co-workers Christina Hahkala and Kristi Albright.

“The costumes were absolutely fabulous and the group that we had was really, really diverse,” she noted.

"We had police officers, nurses, doctors, babies, animals—we had people that just came to watch.

“It's been great," added Daley Fulton. ”Melanie Williams of DJ Party Rock Services, she kept that music going. We had people dancing.

“It was like a big party out there. I had to tell people to go home.”

Windy and cool at first, Daley Fulton said it turned into “an amazing night.”

“The moon was full, the weather calmed down; it wasn't cold,” she remarked.

“People weren't freezing [Wednesday] night.”

Hahkala and Albright said they were happy “to see different faces, and to get our message out there about mental illness and how it affects people and families.”

“If we can reach one more person, then we've done our job,” noted Albright.

She added mental illness is far more common than many people realize, and the way to remove the stigma attached to it is to get people to acknowledge it and talk openly about it.

They also agreed the event really is catching on amongst local residents.

“We'll try to get bigger and better every year," said Albright. ”And we'll always take suggestions.

“We encourage it; we're open to it because we want to make it for everybody.”

Daley Fulton said organizers will look at streamlining the registration process for next year.

And just as importantly, find a better way of judging “glowing" costumes—either by having designated judges go around or having a set time when participants show them off on a "catwalk.”

“We missed so many people—they're coming and going,” she admitted.

“It's so difficult to see them all.”

Nearly all participants in the 1K and 5K walk/run along the riverfront took the “glow” theme to heart—some even lighting up their baby strollers and their canine companions.

Prizes were awarded for the child and the adult with the “best glow,” with Lauren Penney and Kim Daley winning, respectively.

Mackenzie Archie, Sandra Holt, and Priscilla Miller won door prizes.

While not a race, some of the more speedy participants chose to run the 5K and the first over the finish line by a long shot was Priscilla Miller.

She completed the course in a mere 18 minutes.

The Energy Fitness “pace bunnies” (Nicole Katona, Emma Cole, Lillie MacKinnon, and Jillian Calder) led the crowd in some warm-up exercises beforehand.

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