National walk raises awareness about youth mental health
A cross-country walk by police officers and youth is raising awareness about youth mental health and the importance of relevant support and programming services for young people.
The Hope in the Darkness National Walk for Youth Mental Health began on opposite sides of the country and the walk will conclude in Winnipeg on Aug. 3.
The walk from the east coast started on April 1 at Cape Spear near St. John's, Newfoundland and the walk from the west coast started at Masset, a village in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, on May 15.
Participants can join the walk for as long as they prefer and there are lead walkers, which will change along the route.
Three walkers, including one police officer, went through Swift Current on July 21 on their way to Winnipeg.
The lead walker was Mitch Boulette, who is a constable with the Treaty Three Police Service in Kenora, Ontario. He was joined by his brother Nick from Winnipeg and Ryan Morrison from Toronto.
Morrison joined them the previous day after hearing about the walk from his grandmother. He wanted to be part of the walk as a way to honour his brother.
“Last fall, in November, I lost my brother to mental health issues,” he said. “So I thought joining this walk would help me to raise awareness about mental health issues and just to walk for my brother.”
He feels youth are reluctant to speak about mental health issues and they will rather hide their emotions.
“They’re under more peer pressure than anything and then rather to be picked on and bullied, they don’t talk,” he said.
Mitch Boulette, who has been a police officer since 2004, took time off from work in June to be the lead walker in Alberta from Lake Louise to Gleichen.
He came back and started walking again on July 15 at Tilley to complete the Alberta portion of the walk and then to carry on through Saskatchewan as lead walker until the end of the walk in Winnipeg.
“We’re having troubles finding other officers to come and finish the walk,” he said. “So then I took an unpaid leave of absence from work to come and finish the walk.”
He has many personal reasons for becoming involved with the walk to raise awareness about mental health and the epidemic of youth suicide.
“I've had family members who’ve taken their live with suicide,” he said. “Two years ago a cousin who I was really close with took his live and I’ve also contemplated suicide. I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and I went off work for eight months while I got help for my depression. So this walk is something that really touches home for me, which is why I feel really passionate about it.”
Through his duties as a police officer he has seen the struggles of youth dealing with mental health issues.
“I refer to it as a silent killer, because you don’t know if somebody is suffering until it’s too late,” he said.
In recent months he has been working as a youth mental health officer. He will get involved when someone is apprehended under the Mental Health Act and he will continue to provide support.
“Once they’ve either attempted or were thinking about suicide, they come into contact with us and we’ll keep on continuing to visit with them,” he said. “We’ll follow up with them, and in the two months that I’ve been working at this new position, we’ve had six youth contacting us saying they’re struggling having a good time and we talked them through it as opposed to them either attempting or following through with suicide.”
He will share his own story and experiences with people whenever there is an opportunity during the walk.
“I share my story along the way when we present and I encourage people, if they’re suffering, to come forward and reach out for help,” he said. “I always just say it’s OK to feel like that, but don’t act on it. There’s resources out there that can help you and I’m living proof of that, because I was in that place, and it was really hard for me to come forward as a police officer because I was scared that if I came forward that I wouldn’t be able to be a police officer anymore.”
He hopes the walk will not only help to raise more awareness about youth mental health, but to get people talking and reaching out for help and support.
“If you reach out for help, you can get it,” he said. “I’ve been back to work now for over two years. I still have tough days, but I’m loving life now and I’m not battling with those demons in my head anymore. Now, when bad things happen, I talk about it instead of holding it all in.”
For more information about the Hope in the Darkness National Walk, visit the webpage at www.hopeinthedarkness.ca or go to the Hope in the Darkness Facebook page @walkforyouthmentalhealth
Three walkers reached Swift Current on July 21 while walking in support of the Hope in the Darkness National Walk. From left to right, Ryan Morrison and brothers Mitch and Nick Boulette.