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At YYC Cycle, we're dedicated to moving mental health forward in our community by sharing stories to raise awareness. This week, we're joined by our very own Sarah Duke as she shares why continuing the conversation of mental health is so important. 


There is a lot that I still don’t understand about mental health. Some of my understanding comes from personal experience and professional help. Unfortunately, I realized how much I didn’t know when I lost my friend to mental illness.

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My friend, Josie, committed suicide on October 30th, 2017. Josie was an amazing person. She was fierce and she was a fighter. She was the most loyal friend you could ever imagine and challenged you to be better. Josie showed pride in the struggle to become her best self, always putting her best foot forward. Her legacy is strong, but her story is not mine to tell.


The process of grieving and understanding mental illness has proved to be both frustrating and complicated. Since losing my friend, I have viewed the world through a much different lens - on some days with more pessimism and hopelessness and on others with more compassion and empathy. But what I have come to realize is that each day, it is a choice.


Things may not always be ok. It may not work out and you may learn life’s lessons the hard way, but it is never the end of the road. My friend suffered greatly, and there has been a difficult and never-ending road of grief since her passing. Everyone affected by her loss has been faced with the complex question of how they were going to honor and remember Josie’s life. It’s easy to ignore something that you don’t understand; what takes guts and grit is sitting down and looking at how you can do better for the sake of yourself and the people that you love. When a life is lost to suicide, you must tell yourself that you did the best you could with the information you had at the time. And whether or not on any given day you really believe that… it is true. So be kind to yourself. Be the friend that you would want to have, but don’t just do it for others. Be a friend to yourself, and keep in mind that it’s okay to put YOU first. Release the negative connotations from the word “selfish” because it is so important to prioritize your own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.


What gives me hope is the positive social change being made to erase the stereotypes surrounding mental illness – Bell Let’s Talk being one of the major drives. Although Bell Let’s Talk(BLT)is not a perfect campaign, it’s a start and the impact of this day in undeniable. Since 2011, BLT has raised more than $9 million in grants, opening 534 community grant funds. 6,313,777 individuals (and counting) have been supported with access to mental health care and 87% of Canadians reported that they are now more aware of mental health issues.


Please, continue the conversation around mental health every day. I challenge you to expand the discussion to the side of mental health that is often overlooked. Mental health concerns include thought disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, learning disabilities, addiction, and so much more. Encourage one another to incorporate every angle and be mindful of those who experience these challenges every single day, not just today. There is no growth comparable to what can happen outside of your comfort zone, so don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions. Whether you are sharing your experiences or listening to someone else’s, let’s tackle them with the same purpose, empathy and enthusiasm that we are today.  If just one person can find solace in the discussion, then the conversation is worth it.


 This photo was taken after a charity ride in memory of Josie this past summer.