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'You first have to love yourself'

Yesterday, the Sault's first-ever Bell Let's Talk event was held in collaboration between Sault College and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) at Sault College's Essar Hall.

Yesterday, the Sault's first-ever Bell Let's Talk event was held in collaboration between Sault College and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) at Sault College's Essar Hall.

Speakers included Sault College mental health educator Lisa Carricato; Sault College President Dr. Ron Common; Annette Katajamaki (pictured), executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association - Sault Ste. Marie branch, and a number of CMHA clients that suffer a variety of mental health issues.

Of the Bell Let's Talk event, Katajamaki said: "It's about creating awareness about the importance of mental health and to start reducing the stigma, because we know two in three people who are diagnosed or need help don't get the help they need because they're afraid to tell people what's going on with them."

She explained that one in five people will be diagnosed with mental health issues in their lifetime.

The other four of five know, work, or live with someone who is struggling with mental health issues, and being open and educated is the key to acceptance, integration and recovery.

One CMHA client who spoke during the event, who also wishes to remain anonymous, has been struggling with an employer she feels is unsupportive of her unique needs.

She was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder four years ago and has been off work for two months after three and half years with the same company.

"I took the steps necessary so that I didn't become any less healthy than I already was," she told us.

During her first two years of employment, she was happy, productive and well supported.

Since a shift in management, however, she's been struggling telling us that when she would try to explain her condition and what happens when she's not well, nothing was taken into consideration.

She hopes to return to work soon, but is unsure if any changes will be implemented.

"Part of my job now will be to go back and figure out my accommodations," she said. "There's a gap in society that claims you're expected to work, but you have to figure out the accommodations for yourself. Those accommodations are going to have to come from me because I'm the one in it. It can be very isolating."

For employers dealing with employees that may suffer from mental health issues, she had some advice to offer.

"Human Resources needs to follow their name and be there for the humans. They need to be better educated on mental health issues," she explained.

"As much as businesses are accommodating for physical disabilities, for mental health disabilities, the access needs to be individualized," she continued. "There needs to be a paradigm shift socially so employers don't think employees that suffer metal health issues are trying to 'get something' out of them. They need to understand that these are their needs and they need to meet those needs to get productivity."

Michelle, another CMHA client that spoke during yesterday's event, feels that best thing anyone suffering through a mental health crisis can do is focus on maintaining a vibrant and healthy life, and to live with purpose.

"It's important for people suffering mental health issues to recognize the love and support that already exist in their lives and to never forget that love will always exist. But you first have to love yourself," she told us.

In an effort to continue the open and frank discussion to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues, the Canadian Mental Health Association will host Clara's Big Ride in Sault Ste. Marie on June 24, 2014.

A news release issued by the Canadian Mental Health Association about Clara's Big Ride follows.

CMHA Sault Ste. Marie/Algoma is excited to announce Clara’s Big Ride arriving in Sault Ste. Marie on June 24, 2014

SAULT STE. MARIE - Clara Hughes, Canada’s six-time Olympic cycling and speed-skating medallist will be in Sault Ste. Marie on June 24, 2014 during the last leg of her 12,000-kilometre, 110-day ride across Canada.

Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk will begin March 14, visit 95 communities and conclude in Ottawa on Canada Day, July 1.

Together local champions, Algoma Family Services and the Canadian Mental Health Association hope to raise awareness of mental health and to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

“Clara will arrive in Sault Ste. Marie on June 24 via one of our premiere tourist attractions, the Agawa Canyon Tour Train,” says Annette Katajamaki, executive director of the local CMHA Branch.

Clara will cycle from Wawa to Frater that day, and catch the train on its opening day.

A limited number of tickets will be available through CMHA to ride the train with Clara; a time to informally chat about mental health and stigma, and enjoy healthy refreshments and beautiful scenery.

In the evening, Clara will speak at the Roberta Bondar Tent Pavilion during the early evening event featuring desserts and entertainment, jointly hosted by Algoma Family Services and Canadian Mental Health Association.

Event details and ticket information will be available at and as they become available.