Na­tional walk raises aware­ness about youth men­tal health

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Swift Current - BY MATTHEW LIEBEN­BERG— mlieben­[email protected]­t.com

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

Photo by Matthew Lieben­berg

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.

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