The Ride Away Stigma Campaign was founded by Danielle Berman in 2014 to create awareness and overcome the stigma of mental health. Since founding the campaign, she has raised over $80,000 for mental health and suicide prevention charities. She has presented her story at various events, including: schools, conferences, community forums, radio and television.
Danielle has been recognized for her advocacy work by the former prime minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper. She was the recipient of the 2014 St. Joseph’s Spirit of Hope Award and the 2014 Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention Freddi Ford Award.
After having ridden her bicycle from Vancouver, BC to Hamilton, ON, Danielle now brings her campaign to rid the stigma of mental health to the Sea to Sky Corridor by hosting an annual Ride Away Stigma S2S event.
For more information on her story and to view images of the previous events please read below.
My eyes were opened early to mental health and mental illness. My father, who was a respected physician and a loving father, died by suicide in 1999. It was the summer I was going into grade 8. I vividly remember pulling up to my house in my friend’s van to see a police car parked in front of my house. My mom told me that Dad had died.
In many ways I went into denial. I knew he was gone and never coming back, but I held on to the belief that it was an accident and I did not allow myself to grieve. I don’t think I even talked about his death for at least two years. At that point I began to piece together what had happened, and I began asking family and friends for their interpretations of what happened and if they had known he was struggling.
The feeling I remember most was anger, and it was misplaced. I was becoming angry with people who knew he was struggling, and in my eyes at the time, I believed they should have been able to stop him. I also wished that I had known he was struggling, because I thought perhaps I could have saved him.
Being overwhelmed with these emotions, I began to act out and distance myself from my family. Though I was acting out, I was able to do it in a secretive way and hide under the radar of family, teachers and friends. The negative thoughts, not only of my dad passing but of my own struggles, were taking over by the time I was in grade eleven. Believing that I would be judged or would lose friends, I tried various maladaptive coping mechanisms to manage my emotions, though all I hoped for at the time is that something horrible would happen to me so I would no longer have to deal with feeling depressed.
Fortunately, my mom began to see that I was struggling and intervened before I acted on any of my suicidal thoughts. She convinced me that I needed to see a therapist. Before the first session ended, the therapist contacted my mom to share her belief that I was severely depressed and thought that I may also need medication as a form of treatment. Having someone with whom to talk – an unbiased outsider – was a relief. As painful as those sessions were at the beginning, it felt good to finally allow myself to share my experience and emotions.
I remember being very against taking any kind of medication, fearing that it would change me, that my depression could worsen, and that I would be dependent upon it forever. A friend whose family member had been on an antidepressant explained how medication could help me and promised to support me every step of the way. With the support of my friend and my mom, I began my journey of treatment with medication and counselling. Initially I struggled to find a medication that was right for me, but eventually I found one that worked, and within weeks I began to feel better.
Once I became more emotionally stable, I no longer wanted to hide my situation and I began to share with friends that I was seeking treatment. I was happily surprised by the support I received, and it became apparent that I was also helping others to know that it’s okay if you are struggling because you are not alone.
Once I completed my undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University and was in a more stable environment, I began to wean off my medication with the support of a physician and my family. It took approximately half a year, with three months of challenging side effects. However, I was determined that I could manage.
Following graduation, I reflected on how fortunate I was to be helped through very dark times. I decided I wanted to be in the helping profession to provide others with the types of support I received. In following this passion I completed my Master of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York in 2013 and I am now working in the mental health field as a therapist. While I do not bring my personal history into the counselling workplace, I know my experiences make me a more compassionate and patient individual.
No one should ever suffer behind closed doors for fear of judgment, humiliation, or damage to reputation. It is now my mission to help remove the stigma associated with mental illness and to encourage open discussion about it. I want to help others feel comfortable seeking help and to find their voice when all seems lost.