Can you outrun the stigma? One runner has dressed up as “the stigma” for multiple events, inviting participants to literally outrun him.

Hundreds of students, teachers and members of the community came out to the University of Calgary on October, 18, 2015 to run, walk and volunteer for Outrun the Stigma, a student-initiated run/walk for mental health awareness.

Outrun the Stigma, now in its third year, is a joint-initiative between the Distress Centre on Campus Club and the Mental Health Awareness Club at the University of Calgary. Their goal is to end the stigmatization of mental health disorders in the community through fundraising, community engagement, and by cultivating an environment for mental health resource distribution.

Since 2013 the event has raised over $20,000 for Distress Centre Calgary, with $13,000 coming from the 2015 event.

Outrun’s fundraising success this year was bolstered by the introduction of peer-to-peer fundraising. Participants were encouraged to create teams and collect pledges.

Amy Li, Vice President External of the U of C DC on Campus Club said  that one of their new goals is to continue their efforts throughout the year, to support their goal of cultivating community engagement.”

Two new initiatives were announced at the event. A running group was established to continue promoting wellness throughout the year and a project called Ten Thousand Stories:

“We aim to collect 10,000 mental health stories by 2020,” Amy explained. “We want to encourage people to share their own experiences.”

Two of those stories were shared at the event – Nolan Hill, a University of Calgary Student, and local comedian, Derek Wilken, both spoke on their experiences with mental illness.

Derek Wilken (left) and Nolan Hill both gave inspiring and honest speeches before the run/walk began.

Nolan spoke candidly about his own experience with depression and encouraged others to speak up as well.

“I hope you understand how important your voice is to helping this cause,” Nolan said. “I can stand up here and talk about my story, but that’s only my story and my experience. But if you can talk to one other person about being more open about the way we talk about mental health and mental illness, and they talk to someone else, who talks to someone else, then it spreads.

“Together I know that we can help so that more and more people can find a way to get to the end of the movie that is their mental illness and start a new movie, a sequel, if you will, and one that’s filled with laughter, hope, love and light.”

Derek has been involved with Distress Centre previously, as a member of Zeds Comic Communication who partnered with us to make our ConnecTeen comic, A Call 4 Help. He talked about how he has used humour to help him manage bi-polar disorder.

He described seeing a stand-up comedian shortly after being diagnosed, when he was feeling completely miserable.

“It was just amazing,” Derek said. “I started laughing and it felt like the mud was breaking off me, it felt so good. And after a while I started looking at this comic and I go, ‘Wow, he’s basically telling us that his life is crap and we’re laughing at him. Well my life is worse than this guy’s, I could probably be good at this.’”

He said using humour to talk about his mental illness has broken down a lot of the barriers, such as friends being reluctant to talk about it with him. If he begins the conversation with a joke, it lightens the mood and removes the caution many people have when talking to someone who has a mental illness.

Derek also teaches comedy classes, and many of his students have mental illnesses.

He challenged the Outrun the Stigma participants to think about the humorous aspects of their mental illness or mental health issues: “I have taught about 500 people with a mental illness. And when they go on stage they have to talk about their mental illness in a way that is funny because sometimes it’s hilarious. And only we can tell the best jokes. Once you own the joke that is your life, nobody else can make fun of you better than you can.”

As participants finished their 5 and 10ks, they were encouraged to visit the Mental Health Expo to learn more about the mental health resources at the University of Calgary and within the Calgary community as a whole.

Overall it was an inspiring day for mental health awareness and stigma erasure. Distress Centre feels very fortunate to have the ongoing support of the Distress Centre on Campus Club and Mental Health Awareness Club. Their hard work ensured this was the best event yet, and we can’t wait for 2016.

You can donate to Outrun the Stigma 2015 until Friday, October 30

Check out a few more photos from the day:

Several Distress Centre staff members formed a team for Outrun. Here are our 10k runners, Mike Kroeze and Jasmine Dixon.

The DC team was named ‘Namaste in Bed’ and raised the most money of any team! Pictured are our 5k walkers (from left to right): Michael Moosbauer, Emily Burrell and Sangeeta Sharma.

A volunteer high-fiving a participant as he passes the 5k mark.

Musicians from the U of C Gig Club entertained participants, volunteers and mental health expo representatives.