Raising Awareness about Mental Health Issues

From NewsDurhamRegion.com:

Ajax man helps stomp the stigma about mental health issues

DURHAM — For years, shame and fear led Ajax’s Ben Verboom to inadvertently contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

A graduate of Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School, Mr. Verboom grew up with two loving parents and siblings, but that all changed when, in Grade 9, he came home from school to find police cars waiting.

“I had no idea why they were there,” Mr. Verboom said to an audience of Durham high school students attending a Stomping Out Stigma summit recently.

The event is held annually at Whitby’s Ontario Shores mental health centre in partnership with the Talking About Mental Illness Coalition of Durham. Its intent is to raise awareness and stomp out the stigma surrounding mental illness.

For Mr. Verboom, it was the suicide of his father that brought the police to his house that day. His father had been found dead in a car with a bullet in his head which was almost certainly self-inflicted, Mr. Verboom said.

“The loss and grief and anger associated with losing a young parent is one thing,” he said.

But add to that the confusion of it being caused by suicide and he didn’t know what to do, he said.

For five years he stayed silent about it — his friends knew his dad had died but didn’t know it was by suicide.

“I later learned he suffered from depressions for years — I didn’t know this,” he said.

Now aged 20 and in his third year at the University of Toronto, Mr. Verboom has been exposed to courses about mental illness and met others affected. He’s discovered how prevalent it is but one of the things that stopped him from talking about it sooner was the stigma attached.

“I have never experienced suicidal feelings,” Mr. Verboom said. “I really had trouble trying to relate to people who have suicidal tendencies or depression; I still do.”

To help alleviate some of that stigma, he followed in his father’s bike tracks this past summer and hit the road in a Cycle to Help for suicide awareness.

Cycling was an activity the two had shared together. In 2001, his father Tim Verboom even rode his bike to New York to raise money for the Red Cross following 9/11.

For Mr. Verboom’s campaign, he rode from Newfoundland to British Columbia — about 8,000 kilometres — in just 89 days on the bike his dad rode to New York. He also went public with everything surrounding his father’s death.

“I’ll always be a little bit confused about it and (have) unanswered questions no one but him could answer … but it has been a healing process talking about it,” he said following his speech.

“For years I was contributing to the stigma because I was afraid and ashamed to talk about it,” he said.

By approaching the subject with compassion, he’s hoping to help people be more understanding and prevent more people from committing suicide.

“No shame and that’s how we’re going to decrease the stigma,” he added.

For his efforts, Mr. Verboom received the TAMI’s Barb Hiff Memorial Bursary for $500, created in honour of the late member.

In tears, her daughter Danielle Wilson embraced Mr. Verboom following his speech.

“I just want to say thank you,” Ms. Wilson said. “My mother would be so honoured the first award went to someone like you.”

Ms. Wilson has bipolar and has often felt the impact of the stigma associated with mental illness.

High school students who participated in the summit received a tool kit to help them organize events of their own to help stomp out stigma and increase awareness in their school.

For more information about Mr. Verboom or his Cycle to Help, visit www.cycletohelp.org


New Pedestrian and Cyclist Bridge in Ajax

From NewsDurhamRegion.com:

New pedestrian bridges on Bayly and Church span Duffins Creek

By Reka Szekely

AJAX — A new bridge and paved pathway means it’s about to get easier for pedestrians and cyclists to travel along a busy stretch of Bayly Street in Ajax.

Workers installed the bridge over the Duffins Creek on the south side of Bayly, west of Westney Road, late last week and they also created a paved pathway leading from the bridge to Church Street where another bridge, also spanning Duffins Creek, will be installed within the next two weeks.

The new pathways and bridges mean interruptions to the Duffins Creek Trail and the Trans-Canada Trail system in Ajax will be eliminated.

“You’ll be able to stay on the trail system without going on the road all the way up,” said Reg Lawrance, a member of Ajax’s trails committee.

Before the bridge, residents could take the Duffins South Trail from the waterfront at Rotary Park north past Lions Park until Bayly Street. They would then have to proceed along Bayly to Church, either cycling on the road or walking on a dirt path. On Church, residents also had to use the road to cross the creek near Hwy. 401 before connecting to the Duffins North Trail which starts near Mill Street and winds almost to Rossland Road.

Mr. Lawrance said the bridge and pathway will be particularly helpful on busy Bayly.

“That was pretty scary along there, that’s for sure; that’s a big, big improvement,” he said. “A lot of people use it for transport, you’ve probably seen them walking along there.”

Fara Namjoy, project manager of the installation for Rankine Construction, said the Bayly bridge has a 54-metre span and is three metres wide. It was brought in two pieces to the site where large cranes lowered them into place.

“It’s a huge operation today,” said Mr. Namjoy on Friday. “These are some of the biggest cranes available in Ontario.”

The Church Street bridge will span the Duffins Creek on the east side of Church just south of Hwy. 401. It will be a seasonal bridge with a 35-metre span.

“It will be lifted during the winter to prevent ice jamming,” said Mr. Namjoy.

A plan to address the potential for ice jams was a requirement of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. A portion of Church near the bridge will also include a new pathway.

Rankine was awarded a $1.2 million contract in July to complete the projects.

For more information on Ajax’s trails system, visit townofajax.com.


Tour de Greenbelt – Sunday September 27, 2009 – Durham

On an overcast Sunday morning I boarded a school bus at the Toronto Mountain Equipment Co-op to participate in the Tour de Greenbelt. Traveling along the 400 series highways in Ontario you’re bound to pass at least on sign proclaiming entrance in to the Greenbelt. Here’s a handy map to show you where this Greenbelt is:

Ontario's Greenbelt

Essentially, to do an entire tour of the Greenbelt, by bicycle, would take days to complete. Instead, the organizers of the Tour de Greenbelt have selected a few interesting areas to run meandering bicycle tours and allow people to explore areas they may not have thought to do so on their own.

As the event continues to grow I’m certain more and more of the Greenbelt will be uncovered by cyclists. For me, I had the chance to discover a little bit of rural Ajax.

Our Living Countryside

Our bus landed us at Greenwood Conservation Area where we registered for the ride and had some coffee and bagels.

The mayor of Ajax, Steve Parish, was there to welcome us to his part of the Greenbelt. His speech was very passionate as he encouraged us to continue to set an example as ambassadors of cycling and that every time we hit the pavement (wheels down of course) we’re influencing others to do the same.

And then we got to do some embarrassing exercises:

And in a huge group, off we went:

You can’t really see it, but this guy had a crying baby up front. Brave guy:

Now, it may have been a coincidence, but a convoy of Ferraris passed us as we started the tour. Mr. Mayor, are you trying to sell us your town through quiet country roads populated only by cyclists and luxury cars?

Our first rest stop was in the hamlet of Whitevale. There’s a creek running through the centre of town, and a steep, bumpy road leading us to the bridge over this creek. While I held on for dear life I’m certain we passed through a quaint little slice of rural Ontario, but I missed much of it making sure I didn’t go ass over teakettle. At the bottom of the hill there was this cute snack bar:

Then I parked my bike to get an artful “city bike in the country” shot in front of the Whitevale flour mill:

From here we set off to finish the remainder of our 43 km ride. It was a relaxing ride where not one single car horn was honked at us. While fields may bore some people, escaping the city to experience country roads with a couple hundred cyclists is more than just seeing some nature. This event is about exploring our own massive backyard by bicycle. See you in 2010.

Did you go on any of the Tour de Greenbelt rides?