On Sunday August 28th, St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School Teacher ran her 3rd marathon covering the 42.2 km from Levis to Quebec City in support of mental health awareness.
She also dedicated this effort to her friend and neighbor whose tragic and sudden accidental death this summer has left behind his fiancé and two young children. As someone who has struggled in the past with mental illness, she is aware that tragic events like this can trigger serious emotional and mental challenges in what is termed situational depression.
Running with a picture of her friend and young family secured to her back resulted in many conversations from participants whose kindness and encouragement meant a lot to Vallieres. According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, one if five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Echoing the message of Bell Canada’s “Let’sTalk” program, Vallieres believes it is important to break the silence and eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illness which is one of the biggest hurdles in overcoming the disease, as it prevents victims from reaching out for help.
Vallieres’ sees this marathon as a message of hope directed at those who are still afraid to come out of their silence to share their struggles with mental health. She understands the situation well, having suffered herself from the illness for more than 20 years. When her condition became so serious she had to withdraw from work, she finally received the proper diagnosis and help she required. She returned to her teaching job last fall with a mission to share her experience to help students at her school deal with this invisible but pervasive illness.
She initiated a ground-breaking afterschool program called “Change Your Mind” where together with a dozen students she provides mental health education through regular activities and dialogue to support this vulnerable age group. Each Thursday, they share a mental health myth as part of the school announcements, such as the myth that mental illness is just an excuse for poor behaviour. They also organize mental health workshops during lunch periods where students can engage in activities such as yoga and meditation which are designed to promote mental health. The program will continue in their efforts again this fall bolstered by the support of a $2200 grant from the Canadian Mental Health Association Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge received in June earmarked for programs that further the conversation about mental health in the schools.
Vallieres is not just a local hero, her efforts have been recognized further afield when she was selected as an Ambassador for TSN Talk Show Host Michael Landsberg’s #SickNotWeak initiative last spring. As someone who also suffers from depression, Landsberg appreciates the challenges facing those who suffer from the illness. The organization was sparked in 2013 when Landsberg produced a documentary focussing on the debilitating cases of depression experienced by three award-winning athletes including Bell Spokesperson Clara Hughes. The notion that these individuals who embody the attributes of strength and success could be debilitated by this silent illness led to the creation of this program that seeks to reduce the loneliness and hopelessness of both those who have mental health illnesses and their caregivers.
While running has been part of Vallieres’ recuperation strategy, it comes with the added incentive that in running she is helping others cope with their own demons. The donations she receives are directed to the local HKPR Canadian Mental Health Association located in Peterborough to allow them to acquire more resources and provide more services as they are experiencing a significant demand for help from the local community as the success of these initiatives encourage those suffering to reach out for help. As a former recipient of their services, she is confident the money will be well spent. KG