This week I want to raise awareness for D.I.F.D.:Do It For Daron. This is a youth-driven program run out of my hospital to raise awareness and funds for youth mental health education at The Royal. D.I.F.D. was created by the friends and family of Daron Richardson who sadly took her own life in November 2010. Daron’s life truly changed our world in Ottawa, however, for since that time, awareness of mental illness in youth has dramatically improved and the number of young people seeking help has increased by 30%.

This year’s campaign runs from February 1 – 10, 2013 and it is expected that many schools and organizations will register to wear purple, which was Daron’s favourite colour.

For advocates like Darren’s family and friends, advocacy pushes beyond personal pain to a realization that they could be a catalyst for change in improving health care. Many people, if a child, or sister, or good friend dies, need solitude and reflection to fully recover. Media attention with unexpected questions and sometimes painful exposure only reopens old wounds. Knowing this, it takes considerable courage to decide that, no matter the personal cost, you will do exactly this in  the hope that others will not have to endure what you have.

As a psychiatrist,I want to highlight the advocacy efforts of those who have worked for change and progress in Canada’s direction in Mental Illness and Mental Health. Many of these advocates are young. These youth inspire me. I know some of them personally and know that, even as they worked to overcome their own mental health problems, their hearts went out to others who were suffering as they had suffered. Their efforts go beyond the statistics: they let their own personal stories drive change and, again, that takes great courage. (By the way, I know you’re reading this and you know I mean YOU!)

Other than hospitals like my own that promote mental health and treatment for mental illness, a group that inspires me is the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The Commission, now under the leadership of Dr. David Goldbloom, has gotten the attention of all Canadians and is, in my view, the reason for an important beginning in what must be a long conversation about Mental Illness and Mental Health in Canada. Patients, patients’ families, mental health care providers and legislators – we had all worked for many years to have mental health become a priority in Canada. It was only once all of our collective energies were directed into the Mental Health Commission of Canada that we began to see change.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada was built from the hope and tenacity of many, but especially of those Canadians with mental illness and their families, families like the Richardson’s. Their courage to use their experience as the impetus for change even when they might have been isolated or shunned is inspiring. As Canada moves forward in a journey to improved mental health and health care, I hope all Canadians can find the same courage.

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