Michael Schratter stopped his bike outside the Canadian Mental Health Association office with a big smile for his supporters Thursday, some of them local cyclists who had biked with him from Okanagan College’s Kalamalka campus.
“I’ve been dreaming of this day for a long time,” he said.
It was not only one more day on his more than a year-long journey around the world to shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness, it was a homecoming. Schratter grew up in and attended school in Vernon. He has bi-polar disorder and has learned how to live with it. He wants others to know that mental illness is only one part of a person’s life and he has gone on to be a teacher and journalist.
Schratter, who began the trip in August 2010, paying all his own expenses, was quick to point out that while the issue of mental illness is important, he does not want any special recognition.
“I’m just the dog and pony show. It’s time we start looking after the vulnerable people in our society with empathy and compassion and remove the stigma,” he said.
“Hollywood and the media have made mental illness scary but the truth is that less than 17 per cent of violent crime is committed by people with mental illness. What scares me is, who are the other 83 per cent?”
He added his concern that 10 Canadians die by suicide every day, many of them men who don’t know how to reach out for help.
“One in five Canadians has some kind of a mental illness in their lifetime. All of us have known someone with mental illness at one time or other,” said Schratter.
“The ugly portrayal of mental illness will never go away until we say it’s OK to have a mental illness. If the stigma doesn’t go away, we won’t be able to treat it. People should feel as open about talking about mental illness as they do talking about a physical illness. If we start believing that, I think it will be all right.”
Sandy Rysen, executive director, CMHA Vernon Branch, was delighted to see more than 100 people, including some Vernon Vipers players, come out to show their support for Schratter’s ride.
“We were overwhelmed with the response, and so was Michael. It was wonderful, it was great to see that support,” she said.
“He believes so strongly that we need to get rid of the stigma, and so do we. How can people heal from illness if no one will talk about it? If you have a physical illness, there is always support and encouragement. We need to raise awareness and get rid of the stigma.”
All the money raised from the Vernon reception for Schratter, which had a barbecue by donation, will stay with the Vernon branch for mental health programs for children and youth.
Schratter completed 36,000 kilometres of the trip that took him to six continents with his arrival in Vernon.
He continues Ride Don’t Hide, a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association of B.C. for another 4,000 kilometres around British Columbia, scheduled to arrive at his starting place in Vancouver Nov. 12. Then he’ll take some time to rest before he’s back in the classroom in January.
Schratter feels the trip has been a success in raising awareness but it also has another happy ending. His girlfriend, Deborah So, joined him for part of the ride in Asia and they got engaged in Hong Kong.
For more information and Schratter’s blog and photos, or to make a donation, see www.ridedonthide.com.