On Sunday, October 24th, the Douglas Institute took part in the second edition of Montreal Walks for Mental Health, along with 9 other organizations, including AMI-Québec and Revivre. Volunteers, including students and staff of the Institute and the Foundation, arrived at Phillips Square as early as 8 AM to help set up the tables and tents for registration, the DJ, and the press. The forecast had predicted rain from about 10 AM till 2 PM, so it was thought the tents were well-needed.

Regardless of the forecast, about 800 people, including close to 100 volunteers, came out for the event. They all wore the burgundy scarves that were provided with the “MONTREAL WALKS” branding. At 11 AM, as planned, Jeanette Kelly, journalist for the CBC, came to the stage (the statue at the square) to introduce the two Honorary Presidents: Margaret Trudeau and Guy Latraverse, who each took turns addressing the crowd, who gave an ovation to each of them. Margaret spoke in English and Guy in French, although they each added a sentence or two in the other language, making this a truly bilingual event. Equally well-received was Marjolaine Lachance, a representative of Bell Canada, whose recent commitment to give $50 million to mental health over the next 5 years has included a generous $10,000 donation to this walk. This money will be distributed among the organizing members for the mental health services they provide. Ms. Lachance reaffirmed the opinion of everyone else in the crowd that day: We cannot ignore mental illness any longer. It should be as much of a priority as any other health problem. It is time to eliminate the stigma that prevents sufferers from seeking help and affects their morale during their recovery.

Indeed, the people there were there for a reason. They, like many other people perhaps not as willing to be vocal about it, have had their lives affected by mental illness in some way. Because mental illness affects every aspect of someone’s life, including their physical well-being, it creates an extra burden on caregivers and loved ones. The first step towards recovery is asking for help. Sadly, however, because of the prejudice still surrounding mental illness, this is the hardest step to take.

Cold and windy as it was, it did not rain that day. The 800 walkers took to the streets following the address, and were marshalled through the sidewalks of downtown by volunteer crossing guards. Leading the crowd were two other volunteer spokespeople for the event, both of whom received quite a few interviews in the media in the days preceding and following the walk: Mike Santoro and Jason Finucan. Both live with serious mental illness and consider part of their obligation to speak to audiences about their experience, and offer hope and coping strategies to those suffering.

Organizing committee members were extremely pleased with the success of the event, which included about 10 or so media mentions. The more exposure an event like this received, the more the message is sent out to people living in what Margaret Trudeau called “quiet desperation” that they do not have to suffer alone any longer.