Winnipeg Blue Bomber Jordan Matechuk won’t be the only person wearing blue on The Forks river trail on Feb. 23 as a new event aims to raise awareness for mood disorders and bullying of children.
The Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba (MDAM) is asking all participants to wear blue to its inaugural Skate & Stride event, which will feature 2.5- and 5-kilometre routes on the river for people to walk, run or skate. Activity stations for kids will be set up along the way.
Tara Brousseau Snider, the association’s executive director, said it seemed like an important time of year to address the issues.
"We’re seeing a lot of people in January and February with the winter blahs, a lot of depression," she said. "And just like with adults, 20% of children have some sort of mental illness. If we can reach children early, we can reduce a lot of pain and suffering.
"We want families to get outside and learn the importance of doing things together and exercise, especially in winter."
Lending his support to the event is Matechuk, a West Kildonan resident who has used his stature as a professional athlete to draw attention to mental illness.
"People come up and shake my hand and say, ‘thank you for the help,’" Matechuk said. "Football is an avenue to help people."
Matechuk, a former Winnipeg Rifle and University of Manitoba Bison, suffers from depression and bipolar disorder, and has committed to sharing his story with as many people as possible in the community.
"He lives with mental illness so he’s been terrific that way," Brousseau Snider said. "When someone like this is one of the 20% it makes it that much more normal."
Matechuk will be on the river alongside the participants — organizers are hoping to draw at least 400 people — and will speak during the entertainment program to follow at the Inn at the Forks.
While awareness for both bullying and mood disorders has increased in recent years, Brousseau Snider said not everyone realizes how interconnected the two issues are. The majority of children who either bully or are bullied end up with mental illness 15 years later, she said.
"We don’t address the cost that comes later with mental illness," she said. "We are seeing suicides (linked to bullying)… A lot of programs don’t talk about the long term impact of mental illness."
The money raised at the event will be used to fund MDAM’s outreach and education programs, such as parent workshops, booklets telling parents how to access services for their children, in-school and summer programming for youth.
For more information on Skate & Stride, visit www.skateandstride.ca.