President Sharon Evans of the South Okanagan Similkameen Mental Wellness Society with the Elephant in the House symbol that will lead participants on this year’s Defeat Depression Walk on June 3. Mark Brett/Western News

Walk to support youth mental wellness

On June 3 the Defeat Depression Walk for mental health awareness takes place in Penticton

Follow that elephant.

On June 3 the floating, playful, blue pachyderm will travel along Lakeshore Drive from the Peach at Rotary Park to the SS Sicamous and the public is invited to tag along on the sixth Annual Defeat Depression Walk for mental health awareness.

The event is designed to get people moving to raise funds to help continue the society’s Martin House program for youth in recovery from a mental illness through the work of the South Okanagan Similkameen Mental Wellness Society.

“Martin House is basically a peer-to-peer program and part of the focus is for them to work together and learn to understand what is probably going to be a long term health problem,” said society president and longtime psychiatric nurse Sharon Evans. “It’s to help our young people who have a diagnosed mental illness. We’re seeing more in the moderate to severe end of things but there is only so much time for the health providers to support our young people.”

Defeat Depression is a national health awareness anti-stigma and fundraising campaign providing hope, raising awareness and reducing stigma for peopled affected by depression and other mood disorders.

Across Canada volunteers are organizing a variety of physical activities including runs and walks and have community engagement and social interaction for a more positive outlook on mental health.

The blue elephant in the walk is called Elephant in the Room and is part of the national anti-stigma campaign by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

Displaying the blue elephant indicates caring about the mental wellness of others and that the location is a safe place to talk about the condition without fear and you will be treated with respect and dignity.

Evans estimated 70 per cent of adults with a mental illness had the onset during adolescence.

“In our catchment area we’re probably talking about in the neighbourhood of 400 kids,” she said. “We know the earlier you can catch it and the earlier you can respond to it with medication, the earlier you can develop some life skills and have a better outcome.

“Usually by the time we would see somebody their symptoms are improved because of the medication but they’re going: “OK, so this is great what I do I do?’ So we say: ‘What would you like to do?’ We ask them the questions, what are your hopes? What are your dreams?”

When asked if people with mental illness can realize their dreams Evans replied: “Absolutely.”

To that end, the society is successful. People of all ages who against what many think are great odds, have achieved their goals and are now willing to share with others just starting out on their life journey.

“With mental illness it is often perceived as being less than, less than the rest of us, but in reality at some point we all experience periods of difficulty,” said Evans. “The question is what do you do with it? And that’s the goal of Martin House, to teach them what to do with it.”

Another critical component of the program is to work with families of mental health patients.

“Families are the main support system and if that system doesn’t know what’s going on or have the skills to help, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “Especially at three o’clock in the morning when everything is going south.

And right across the board in health this means that families are doing far more and dealing with far more complex situations than ever in the past, so mental health should be no different.”

The goal of this year’s walk is $5,000. Registration is at 1 p.m. and the walk takes place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

To register and for more information visit http://bit.ly/2ntZxXC.