For Michael Schratter, silence is the enemy.
In 1995, Schratter was diagnosed with hypomania, a form of bipolar disorder. He had an illness, and yet was told to hide his pain and struggle for fear of what others might think.
“If you have a broken arm in a cast, people know there’s pain and they have empathy and offer help. With mental illness, you are to be ashamed and silent because if you share, you could be in a worse position than if you kept your mouth shut,” said the effusive former Vernon resident to a crowd of students at Okanagan College and Salmon Arm Secondary on Monday.
His experience with his illness, sparked the idea for the Ride Don’t Hide campaign, which, 15 years after his diagnosis, saw Schratter ride 40,000 kilometres around the world to raise awareness about the stigma surrounding conditions like depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia.
He also raised roughly $67,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Statistics show that one in five Canadians will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives.
Schratter has also created a website – www.ridedonthide.com –where people can share their stories about mental illness or show their support for those suffering.
While he notes the response has offered many a chance to share in a safe, supportive place, others have posted stories, only to later request they be pulled off the site.
Youth are particularly at risk, with the suicide being the second largest killer of Canadian young people.
“The first is car accidents and think of all the safety measures we use to combat that. When it comes to mental illness, we’ve got a long way to go.”
As a result of his ride, the Canadian Mental Health Association will be following up with Ride Don’t Hide cycling events in communities across Canada.
An event is being planned for Salmon Arm in 2013, to be held on June 23.