A new fund has been launched that will help men get the mental-health support they need. The Ride Away Stigma Assistance Fund will subsidize counselling for financially restricted males in Squamish ages 15 and up. Organized in partnership with Sea to Sky Community Services, the program will fund up to six counselling sessions provided the individual contributes $30 towards the cost of each visit.
"This starts to create a different conversation related to men's mental health, and shows how important it is for men to receive support, and to look at men opening up in a different way," said counsellor Danielle Berman. In 2014, Berman launched a cycling campaign in Ontario, Ride Away Stigma, aimed at diminishing the stigma around mental illness after she battled with depression through high school. Since then, Berman has raised tens of thousands of dollars for mental-health and suicide-prevention charities, and brought a second bike ride to her hometown of Squamish last year after moving to the community. The September ride raised $17,000, which went entirely to the new assistance fund.
Along the way, Berman heard from many who'd seen mental illness impact the men in their lives. It's an issue that strikes a personal chord: her father, a prominent physician in Hamilton, Ont., committed suicide when she was just 13.
"A lot of the stories I heard were about men not feeling comfortable reaching out or feeling like they're weak," recalled Berman. "Unfortunately in our society, it's thought that the man is the provider and the caretaker for everyone, so there may be concern that if they're struggling, they can't fill that role. But in a family, it's everyone together, supporting each other."
The fund was made possible thanks to help from Berman's de facto Squamish family, like Greg Gardner, who provided $4,500 in cash through his GM dealership along with a range of in-kind support.
"I believe that we need to bring more attention and awareness to mental-health issues in our society, and beyond awareness, I would hope that eventually we're able to direct more resources towards addressing these issues," Gardner said.
That kind of support will be needed in the future if the fund is to continue in the long term.
"We have only $17,000, which sounds like a lot of money but it can go pretty quickly," Berman noted.
This year's Ride Away Stigma event will be held in Squamish on June 4. Donations to the fund can be made at www.sscs.ca/programs/mens-counselling.