On Oct. 18, in the thick of the municipal election, where the homeless issue and the divisive politics that has overshadowed Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows was playing out in full force, community members packed Meadow Gardens for a sold-out fundraising event called, “Love is: supporting suicide prevention in our community.”
And in stark contrast to the negativity that has marred the debate on how to handle the homeless issue, the evening reflected a more progressive attitude, inclusive of compassion and support for those living with mental health and addiction, which Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows would probably rather be known for.
“Love is: supporting suicide prevention in our community,” was the brainchild of Jill Matt and her husband, Tom, who are co-owners of Lotus and Lemongrass, which is a home décor store situated on 224th street.
After the suicide death of their nephew, they felt they needed to do something to bring awareness to the tragedy of suicide. And although the subject matter is tremendously sad and misunderstood, they created an evening of laughter and insight that challenged the stereotypical views of mental illness and addiction, which was delivered in spades by three young people living with mental illness who were brave enough to take on the lively crowd with their stand up comedy act.
Neither Jill or Tom had put on an event of this magnitude before, so they were a little apprehensive with what they were getting themselves into, but they were determined to help spread awareness and provide support for those who face depression causing suicidal thoughts or actions, as well as support for families who have lost loved ones to suicide.
This was a pretty tall order, but they pulled it off by raising $33,000 through the course of the evening. That amount was then matched by an anonymous donor, which will all be donated to support the Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Katzie Community Services’ Youth Wellness Centre’ Suicide Prevention Program.
Still, aside from the funds raised, the highlight of the evening was the comedy performances by members of “Stand up for Mental Health, Stand Up Comedy Show,” lead by its creator, David Granirer, who, along with his team, has a mental illness diagnosis.
Mr. Granirer, has received multiple awards for his work in reducing the stigma of mental health, including his program that teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental illness as a way of building confidence and fighting public stigma.
And it is clearly achieving its goal, as the young comedians who performed for us were hilarious and their self-declared mental health issues of schizophrenia, bipolar and depression took a back seat as their performances eased us into a typical audience/comedian relationship, through the use of their personal experiences with mental health as their subject matter.
Clearly, there were no jokes about suicide, as nothing about that is funny. But the comedians shared their message about the struggles of living with the stigma of mental illness within their act, which allowed us to relax a bit about their subject matter and truly have some gut laughs. Their material also encapsulated the rawness of the pain that they face everyday, by people not understanding mental illness.
One of the stand-up comedians summed it up with the clarity only her personal experience could provide when she joked that her mom would try to encourage her to reduce or go without her medication for her depression, yet her brother’s need for his asthma medication was never questioned.
She joked about flipping that around, insisting that her brother toughen up and go without his puffer, which was framed with smart comedic wit, while at the same time delivering a clear message on how mental illness is still viewed as a self-imposed situation that someone can “will” themselves to overcome.
Unfortunately, the reality is that without proper supports, mental health and addiction spiral out of control and too many are lost to suicide.
In fact, based on the 2014 report by the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention: “Approximately 11 people will end their lives by suicide today in Canada and four out of five people who die by suicide have made at least one previous attempt.”
Further, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association: “Up to 90 per cent of people who take their own lives are believed to have substance use problems or a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety – whether diagnosed or not – at the time of their suicide.”
And if those statistics don’t catch our attention, the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds, based on the 2014 World Health Organization report on suicide prevention, should be enough to have all of society demanding better supports for mental health and addiction.
In the meantime, our communities are lucky to have people like Jill and Tom, who are willing, along with the other businesses and volunteers that supported them, to donate their time and energy to raise both awareness and the funds to support suicide prevention.
And now that the election is over and the successful candidates are getting ready to tackle the issues, including the homeless issue that involves mental health and addiction, perhaps they would like to keep in their minds the following words that Jill shared when I asked her to sum up how she and Tom felt about having created such a positive event that inspired compassionate and informed dialogue on mental health and addictions issues.
“Our hearts are full,” she said.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and former citizen of the year.