Squamish bike ride sparking conversation on mental health 

Ride Away Stigma is set for Sept. 18 at the Squamish legacy Sports Park

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - RIDE ON Danielle Berman during her 2014 cross-country bike ride for mental-health charities.
  • photo submitted
  • RIDE ON Danielle Berman during her 2014 cross-country bike ride for mental-health charities.

At the age of 17, Danielle Berman reached the end of her rope.

After battling depression throughout high school, and only a few years removed from her father's suicide, Berman felt isolated and feared being judged for her struggles with mental health.

"I was very suicidal and actually had a plan on how I wanted to end my life," she recalled.

And then, right when Berman needed it most, a lifeline appeared.

"Fortunately at that time a very close friend of mine and my mom reached out to me because they recognized I was starting to withdraw," said Berman, now a counsellor for Vancouver Coastal Health.

Today, Berman is extending a lifeline of her own through Ride Away Stigma, a bike ride campaign aimed at diminishing the stigma associated with mental illness. In 2014, she rode across the country, encouraging Canadians to open up about their own struggles.

Since then, she has raised over $55,000 for mental health and suicide prevention charities and continues to host an Ontario bike event on World Suicide Prevention Day. A recent transplant to the Sea to Sky corridor, Berman is now bringing the ride to her hometown of Squamish.

"For me, Ride Away Stigma has become a part of who I am... and I wanted to bring it to my new home and do something positive for my community," she said. Ride Away Stigma Sea to Sky is set for Sept. 18 at the Squamish Legacy Sports Park.

Along with raising funds for Sea to Sky Community Services, Berman's ultimate goal for the event is to spark a conversation around mental health and let the people "struggling in silence know they are not alone."

While she acknowledges the progress that's been made, she feels we still have a long way to go when it comes to talking about mental health openly and honestly, particularly in the Sea to Sky.

"For the corridor, there are a couple barriers: We live in small communities, so I think people are afraid to reach out because others may find out," she said. "As well I think a lot of people come here because it's such a beautiful place and we're all supposed to be happy and having fun.

"People put expectations on themselves that are unrealistic, so they feel isolated and don't want to reach out because they think they're the only ones feeling that way."

More than a decade and a half since her father's death, Berman said the work she's doing now is a way to build on his legacy.

"Obviously I don't wish I went through what I did, but I think it's made me what I am today," she said. "My father loved helping people — he was a doctor — so I'm getting to continue a relationship with him by helping others."

Registration for Ride Away Stigma begins at 9:30 a.m. There will be a six-kilometre cruiser ride and an intermediate-level group mountain bike ride, followed by live music and a barbecue.

Participants can sign up to collect pledges at www.rideawaystigmas2s.com, and the $20 entry fee will be waived.

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