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Edmonton event step towards ‘Breaking the Silence’ around mental health

Breaking the Silence 2017.
Breaking the Silence 2017. Breaking the Silence/Jag Atwal

Breaking the Silence is an Edmonton walk and run that aims to get people talking more about mental health.

“The goal is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and promote the resources that are available in Edmonton for those in need,” organizer Jag Atwal said.

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton event steps towards “Breaking the Silence”

The event began just over four years ago after Atwal and his friend group were rocked by tragedy.

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“A very close friend of ours, Surjan Singh Sanghera, took his own life. He was struggling with his mental health but we didn’t know,” Atwal said. “We wanted to make a positive change in society so others won’t struggle the same way he did.”

Atwal said when Sanghera died, no one saw it coming. He was seen by many of his friends as “invincible.”

“We all played soccer together for many years. He was the tallest, fastest and strongest out of all of us. He was a fantastic human being, loved by everyone. He was a jokester, constantly making us laugh,” Atwal siad.

“It caught us by surprise. If this guy can succumb to the pressures, then anyone is susceptible.”

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Atwal and his friends created Breaking the Silence in honour of Sanghera.

“Taking a friend’s death and making sure it doesn’t happen again, whether it be the suffering of the person or the family and friends. We are really just trying to ensure we take this tragedy and turn it into a positive,” Atwal said.

READ MORE: Edmontonians climb stairs in support of mental health

The event is in partnership with CASA Child Adolescent and Family Mental Health.

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CEO Dr. Denise Milne said CASA got involved through one of its foundation board members.

“That connection has materialized into this beautiful ‘let’s break the silence and open the conversation around mental health and suicide,’” Milne said.

To Atwal, it’s important the event is open to everyone who wishes to participate.

“People need an outlet. They need to know there is support out there, there are resources. We want to reduce the stigma so people open up,” he said.

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“A run and walk is accessible to everybody. We wanted to eliminate barriers for those attending, so we made the event completely free.”

READ MORE: Edmonton family calls for more access to mental health services in wake of son’s death

Milne, who participates in the event herself, said it’s a powerful and emotional walk.

“When you see everyone at the start, wearing the same t-shirt, it sends a strong message that Edmontonians are wanting to voice their concerns for mental health,” Atwal said. “There is lots of laughter and joy, those are the things we want to celebrate.”

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Event organizers hope it will raise funds and educate participants.

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“We have information booths at the event, [various organizations are there] that offer mental health services,” Atwal said. “If people leave with more knowledge than they came with, a business card, some hope— that’s a huge success.”

READ MORE: Alberta mother shares struggles her teen daughter faced before taking her own life

Atwal said it’s important that all communities and people from all walks of life feel like they can reach out if they need help.

“It’s a conversation that is so desperately needed,” Milne said. “Listen and be aware, check in with [the people in your life]. Put the questions out, but be respectful.”

This year’s fundraising goal is $25,000 in support of CASA. In total, the event has raised $30,000.

If you would like to participate in the event on Sept. 15, you can register here.