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Ottawa Race Weekend, 2015. Photo by Ross Dunn in the Apt613 Flickr Pool.

Why I run: Supporting The Royal and DIFD at Ottawa Race Weekend

By Josh Lemoine on May 26, 2016

There are a lot of reasons why I run.  Running gives me time to myself.  It energizes me and keeps me in shape.  It justifies my pizza consumption (at least, in my mind it does).

This year, I have another reason.  I was encouraged this year to participate in the Ottawa Race Weekend’s Scotiabank Charity Challenge.  The Charity Challenge gives anyone running this weekend the chance to raise money for any one of nearly local 61 charities.  It’s a way to challenge yourself and support a cause you care about.  If you’re running and would like to fundraise, there is still time to sign up!  You can find more information here or search the official hashtag #RunScotia to find out who is fundraising and help them reach their goals.

On May 28th, I won’t just be running in the HTG Sports Ottawa 5K to justify the post-race beers.  I’ve chosen to support the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.  The Foundation “raises funds to support the best possible patient care and leading edge research provided by the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, the Brockville Mental Health Centre, and the uOttawa Institute of Mental Health Research.”

The mission of DIFD is to raise awareness, inspire conversation and to transform youth mental health

The Foundation for Mental Health has several important initiatives, such as ‘You Know Who I Am,’ the anti-stigma and advocacy campaign made famous by Daniel Alfredsson’s involvement, and ‘Women for Mental Health.’  But as a former high school teacher, it was the Foundation’s involvement with DIFD (Do It For Daron) that brings this cause close to my heart.

As stated on their website, DIFD is “a youth-driven initiative focused on raising awareness and inspiring conversations about youth mental health. Created by friends and family of Daron Richardson (including parents Luke and Stephanie) who lost her life to suicide at the young age of 14.”

I spoke with Kelly Meincke, DIFD Project and Events Coordinator for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, about DIFD’s mission, and impact in the community.

“The mission of DIFD is to raise awareness, inspire conversation and to transform youth mental health.  As the foundation, we raise funds to support youth mental health education, awareness and research initiatives.”

Former Ottawa Senators assistant head coach Luke Richardson and his wife Stephanie are still heavily and directly involved in DIFD.  “As the founders of DIFD, they disburse funds to mental health initiatives, raise awareness in the community, speak at many different events, and are also involved in planning events throughout the year.”

In recent years, public awareness of mental health issues, for youth and adults, has been on the rise, which is helping to reduce the stigma

DIFD has several programs and initiatives that take place both at The Royal and directly in schools.

“One of the big initiatives that DIFD supports is called ‘Is It Just Me?’  Essentially it’s a half-day educational program where we bring students to The Royal, and they hear from a number of speakers.  They hear from a social worker, addictions counsellor, a neuroscientist and someone with lived experience who has been struggling with a mental illness and is now doing better.  They share their stories, that 1 in 5 people are affected, ‘it’s people just like me,’ etc…  And then another part of the learning is that students actually come here to The Royal, and they can see that it’s a hospital like any other, so it really helps with the stigma portion.”

When schools host awareness raisers or fundraisers for DIFD (bake sales, dress-down days, volleyball tournaments, etc…), DIFD will go out to those schools and speak about mental health.  They may send clinicians, or someone with lived experience to share their story.

While there has been a lot of progress made in terms of public education and awareness of mental health, there is still a lot of work to do…

In recent years, public awareness of mental health issues, for youth and adults, has been on the rise, which is helping to reduce the stigma.  Meincke said this can be attributed to several factors.

“One [factor] would be Daniel Alfredsson for sure, when he stepped up and became a spokesperson for The Royal.  A lot of people really started to talk about mental health and how important it is.  That was a game changer for The Royal and for mental health in our community. Bell Let’s Talk Day also does an incredible job at encouraging conversations and action within the community.  And then unfortunately when Daron died, the Richardsons having the courage to come forward and talk about their own personal tragedy definitely helped a lot of parents be able to have their own conversations with their children.”

While there has been a lot of progress made in terms of public education and awareness of mental health, there is still a lot of work to do by organizations like The Royal and initiatives like DIFD, but they still face many obstacles.

“I think sometimes with mental health, it’s still hard for some people to be able to talk about it.  A lot of times some people are afraid that if they talk about mental health, or they talk about suicide, that that might cause people to be suicidal, or cause people to be afraid to talk about the subject.  But what we really encourage is that the more people are able to talk about it, the more chances that there are for people to reach out for help to get the services that they need.  It can still be a challenge.  There is still a stigma associated with mental health, however what we’re hoping to do is through programs like DIFD is to dispel some of those stigmas, and make youth especially really feel comfortable talking about it.  So then, if they are struggling, they can reach out for help.  What we have also found is that the earlier mental illness is identified, the better the chances for treatment recovery.”

If you’d like to help me reach my Charity Challenge goal of $250, you can do so here. 100% of your donation will go directly to my charity plus, every donation comes with a beer.

Ottawa Race Weekend runs (ha!) May 28-29, 2016 and includes the 2k, 5k, 10k, half and full marathons.  There is live music on the Celebration Stage at City Hall’s Festival Plaza, featuring Hollerado.  There is also a Health and Fitness Expo at the Shaw Centre with over 100 vendors, free to the public, running from May 26-28.

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