Discussing Mental Health Issues

Contributing editor Joan Kelley Walker shares the story of a dear friend who sadly passed away in 2019. After his death, she was inspired to help others who suffer from mental illness.

It is estimated that one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness throughout their lifetime.

This statistic is alarmingly high and it does not feel like reality until you or someone you love is affected. I recently lost a dear friend to a tragic suicide. Ben LeFevre was a man who could light up a room with his smile—he embraced everyone he met with love and his soft genuine nature. With the sudden news of his death, I immediately knew that something had to be done. But what? And how? Mental health issues are very complex. How can I do something meaningful in his memory that will make a difference?

What I do know is that I didn’t realize the extent of his suffering. I don’t know if any of us really can begin to understand unless you have been there. Mental illness often causes people to suffer in silence and they hide behind a brave face to the outside world, which is not a true reflection of what’s inside. While there are effective treatments available, many never seek help from professionals due to stigma, discrimination, a lack of resources or a combination of all of these.

On a positive note, I have noticed that there has been very open communication about mental health issues in Canada. Now, more than ever, we all have an opportunity to inspire each other to raise awareness and take part in the sharing of information, tools and support for mental health issues. You can make a legitimate difference and help change the narrative from negative to one of positive affirmation by learning, being thoughtful and talking openly.

It is eye-opening how many people have confided in me since the loss of Ben that they too have faced depression, anxiety, addiction and suicidal thoughts. People need to know they are not alone. One simple thing you can all do is to talk to those around you about how they are feeling, and take the time to truly listen. People need to be seen and heard. Check in regularly, especially if you know they are under strain or dealing with a challenge. Our lives can get really busy but it is important to take the time and connect with those around us, to Look into their eyes in a new way. You never know what is behind them.

Although there are good people and agencies that do exist to help those in crisis, there are often long waiting lists. The lack of resources continues to be a challenge. This inspired me to create the Ben LeFevre Mental Health Impact Fund to lend support and strength to those agencies, so they can do their work to continue to assist people who need it most.

I am learning a great deal as this unfolds. I feel better to be proactive, but the fact is that Ben’s legacy deserves to live on and continue to create impact, because that is what he did in every way. Ben was a loving, helpful soul. I like to believe that he is still here helping others in a tangible way through this crucial fund.

We all have connections to charitable causes that speak to us on a personal level for various reasons. My true hope is that if everyone finds a way to give back in their own way, together we make this world a better place. Are you inspired to give? Volunteer? Learn? Help? How can you create impact?

We are a network of fabric of connectivity in this world. We all have ups and downs, we all need help at some point. It may sound trite but sharing and caring really do make the world a much better place. When it’s borne out of love or loss, we can have a tremendous impact.

To learn more about the Ben LeFevre Mental Health impact fund, visit unitedwaygt.org/benlefevre.