As around 150 people gathered in Lions Park on Friday, they had mental health on their minds.
The fifth annual Caelin Porter Mental Health Awareness Walk brought residents from across St. Albert together to raise awareness about mental health.
Jennifer Becker, youth asset development coordinator with City of St. Albert, said events like the walk help combat stigma attached to having a mental illness.
“A lot of people have shame or embarrassment around mental health,” she said. “I think that events like this shine the light on mental illness, and it helps people to feel more comfortable to speak about it.”
This year, the walk raised $1,140, less than the $3,500 that was raised last year. Becker said there wasn’t as much advertising done on the event this year, but said she was still happy with the amount that was received.
The funds will go toward providing mental health support to youth in St. Albert.
The annual walk started five years ago, after 18-year-old Caelin Porter died by suicide just weeks before his birthday in December 2014.
Porter was just 14 years old when he told his mother, Shelley, that he was feeling sad. A doctor put him on prescription medication, but it made him feel dull. He decided to stop taking it.
At 17 years old, Porter was still feeling depressed. He started losing weight, and being around people made him anxious.
In late December 2014, he killed himself while staying in a hotel room.
“He was a really smart, insightful kid. He was a nice kid. He wasn't angry at the world,” Shelley said at the time. “He was frustrated with his illness, he was frustrated he felt so yucky.”
Shauna Vanderheide, community intake counsellor with St. Albert's community and social development department, said currently youth don’t have enough community support, and wait times to see a counsellor are too long. With the funds, they’re able to get people the help they need in shorter time.
“We're able to kind of bypass some of the wait times and get some private psychological services right away,” she explained.
The annual walk is organized through the youth-led group called Building Assets and Memories (BAM), which is supported by the City of St. Albert.
For Elorra Marchand, BAM youth adviser, the annual walk hits close to home. She’s known three people through school who have killed themselves. One was a friend from elementary school, who she had grown apart from over the years.
“It was quite tough,” she expressed. “It was more difficult for me, being that we've been apart for so long, to kind of just get the news from secondary sources.
She hopes the walk will help reduce some of the stigma attached to struggling with a mental health illness.
“For the walk, I think it's very personal for most people that have been impacted by suicide. We need to make sure that people know that they're not alone,” she said.