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The Okanagan will come together in the name of mental health to participate in the inaugural year of a valley-wide initiative known as the Stigma Stroll.
Founded by Kelowna resident Reid Schretlen, the Stigma Stroll is a series of two-kilometre walks slated to take place in seven Okanagan communities between June 7 and 9.
The goal is to raise awareness for the one in five Canadians that struggle with mental health issues and to open up the conversation around it.
“I had my own challenges with depression throughout 2017 and 2018," Schretlen said. "I really struggled with being afraid to ask for help, thinking it was a sign of weakness. I was ashamed for having that kind of struggle."
He added: “Having worked through it, getting help and coming out the other side, I wanted to do something within the Okanagan to reduce the stigma around mental health and to show those who are struggling within the Okanagan that there are people who support them and that it is okay to be open about it.”
The walks will not only raise awareness but support local charitable organization Third Space Life Charity and their Community Care Fund, which subsidizes the cost of counselling sessions, making them accessible to those in need within the Okanagan.
“If we get people talking they may gain the courage to ask for help, but what we find after they get to that point is that counselling is not as easily accessible for some,” said Schretlen.
Schretlen’s goal is to raise a cool $100,000 for the Community Care fund through both the walk and an online fundraising campaign called “The Other Four.”
“One in five Canadians will be affected by some kind of mental health challenge, and a question I get asked a lot is what people can do if they are one of the other four,” said Schretlen.
“We did the math and figured out that if each of those four were to donate $30, their combined donation would come up to enough to completely pay for one counselling session for someone in need.”
So far, The Other Four campaign has raised $5,600, with the total still growing.
The first of the seven walks will take place in Penticton on the morning of June 6th, stopping in Summerland, Peachland and West Kelowna on June 7 before making it to Third Space Coffee in Kelowna the following day, eventually making its way through Lake Country and Vernon on June 9 where it will conclude.
For those who are hoping to participate in the stroll, or maybe even work up a bit more of a sweat, Schretlen has also put together the “Super Stroll.”
The Super Stroll is an intense 130km walk that will take participants from each Stigma Stroll to the next throughout the valley, an experience Schretlen hopes will “physically connect” the Okanagan together.
“I wanted to make this event more than just a cause that happens in Kelowna, because mental health is something that affects all of us,” said Schretlen.
The Kelowna stroll is scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 8 outside of Third Space Coffee. There is no registration fee, but Schretlen asks that those who plan to attend to please RSVP through the website.
For more information on other walks or to make a monetary donation, visit www.stigmastroll.ca