Mental health forum draws full crowd, pleas for change

There wasn't an empty seat to be found at St. Teresa's Parish Hall in St. John's Wednesday night, as hundreds of people turned out to share their stories on mental health and their desire for change.
Actors and activists Mary Walsh and Mary-Lynn Bernard speak at a mental health forum in St. John's 3:54

There wasn't an empty seat to be found at St. Teresa's Parish Hall in St. John's Wednesday night, as scores of people turned out to share their stories on mental health and their desire for change. 

The forum, hosted by NDP MHA Gerry Rogers, drew far more people than organizers expected, with some in the overflow crowd leaning in from the porch. 

The panel included actors Mary-Lynn Bernard and Andy Jones, who spoke out on CBC this winter about how their son, Louis Bernard, took his own life in February after struggling for years with a debilitating mental illness. 

"It didn't feel like courage. It just felt like we wanted to tell the truth," said Bernard, describing how she and Jones were upfront in their son's obituary about his suicide. 

Bernard said she and Jones have frequently been approached since then by people who have disclosed how their own families have been dealing with mental illness. 

We are not a burden- Lawyer Mark Gruchy

"We realized the can of worms was now opened, so that's a good thing. Hopefully the little worms can get out there and make something happen…so I'd like to thank Louis for that." 

The forum provided opportunities for people to speak plainly about their experiences, and particularly about their wishes to eradicate stigma about mental illness. 

"People are born a particular way, with particular issues, and it is only right and just and moral that these people be supported by their peers for the contribution they are making to them," said Mark Gruchy, a St. John's lawyer who lives with bipolar disorder.

"We are not a burden." 

'Shouldn't be any type of stigma'

Brock Ballard told CBC News it was comforting to discuss his personal history with addictions and depression in a room filled with people who understand. 

Donald MacFadzen-Reid: 'Getting things swept under the rug doesn't get anything solved. You just have a big mess under the rug.' (CBC)
"Whether it's addictions, bipolar — whatever your mental illness is, there shouldn't be any type of stigma," he said. 

While the issues about mental illness may be complex, participant Donald Macfadzen-Reid said the message is simple: it's time to talk. 

"Getting things swept under the rug doesn't get anything solved. You just have a big mess under the rug," he said. "It still needs to be dealt with at the end of the day." 

With files from Amy Stoodley

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