Posted by Mary Lou Harrison, District 7070 Governor 2018-19

Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness - A Rotary Story

In the news and on social media, we are hearing more and more about the struggles that many of us have with mental illness, either personally or as experienced by someone we love. This is a good thing because bringing conversations out into the realm of public discussion makes people feel less isolated and, ideally, more supported. There is mental illness in every family, and the Rotary family is no exception.

Unfortunately, many people who suffer feel such stigma about mental illness that they don't seek help or they hide their illness from others, feeling shame and fearing rejection. Fortunately for us all, there are people who do the exact opposite. I met two of them recently at an amazing Rotary event....

On Saturday, April 28, 2018, the members of the Rotary Club of Courtice added their voices to the conversation about mental illness at their annual Clarington Youth & Community Leaders Dinner & Dance

Called An Evening to End Stigma, the event raised funds to support mental health initiatives and programs throughout Clarington and Durham Region. But it did so much more than that. 

Two amazing speakers showed us that it is possible to speak about the realities of mental illness without fear and without shame. The first was Shannon Lavigne, President of the Rotary Club of Courtice, and the second was Michael Landsberg, Canadian sports journalist and former host of Off the Record for TSN.

President Shannon spoke about her ongoing struggle with mental illness, something that first appeared when she was 13 years old. To a packed community centre, Shannon shared that she is currently an inpatient at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services receiving Electroconvulsive Therapy. She spoke candidly about her illness, the impact on her life, and of the great support received from her family, friends, and the members of her Rotary Club. There was no hint of shame or apology or embarrassment. Nor should there have been. Shannon, you are an incredible inspiration. Thank you. 

Michael Landberg was the keynote speaker for the evening with his participation arranged by long-time friend and Rotary Club of Courtice member, Erin O'Toole, M.P. for Durham. Michael is one of Canada's most vocal advocates for mental health awareness. He related his own struggle with depression using powerful stories, both his own and from the lives of people he has touched through his presentations in communities large and small. Michael's main message is that mental illness isn't a weakness, but rather a sickness that needs treatment and open conversation like any other illness. "Imagine," he says, "if you knew you could change lives by simply telling your story." You can learn more about Michael's efforts to end the stigma associated with mental illness by listening to the Daily Landsblog, part of the #SickNotWeek website. Thank you Michael for spending time in conversation with us!

If mental illness affects your life, reach out to someone and talk. I would suggest that, if Shannon's experience is anything to go by (and I think it is!), members of your Rotary family would make good listeners.

In fact, we're going to be talking about mental health at the District 7070 Conference on 27 October 2018 in Wellington, Prince Edward County at which Shannon Lavigne will be a key presenter in one of our five workshop sessions. At $99 for the whole day, including three delicious meals and an inspiring program, you won't want to miss it. Space is limited, so don't delay. Register today. Let's continue the conversation. 

Mary Lou

Mary Lou Harrison

District Governor 2018-19 arotarianmarylou@gmail.com

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