• Jules-Pierre Malartre

Removing the stigma of mental illness


Vaudreuil-Soulanges Federal MP Peter Schiefke stressed the importance of continued work between community organizations and the government to raise awareness and fight mental illness.

The Ken Lefrançois Memorial Gala for Mental Health took place November 4 at Auberge des Gallant in Sainte-Marthe. Presented by the Rotary Club of Hudson and Saint-Lazare in partnership with Partners for Mental Health and Auberge des Gallant, the event aimed to increase awareness of mental health issues in our community and raise funds to support local charities such as Le Tournant, Le Versant and Le Zèbre Rouge.

The event was held in memory of Ken Lefrançois who started a Mental Health initiative with the Rotary Club. “He felt that if we could start to talk about mental health issues, we could do more to prevent them and help those in need. We are here this evening to further his cause,” stated his son, Louis-Philippe Lefrançois.

Jean-Noël Bilodeau, General Manager of Le Zèbre Rouge in Vaudreuil-Dorion, took a few moments to talk about the work done by the bicycle recycling shop that opened up in 2004 and that has since grown into a significant social reintegration tool for people suffering from mental illness. “Le Zèbre Rouge was created to allow (people suffering from mental illness) to be active,” Bilodeau stated. “We created this small workshop for repairing bicycles, and over the years, it has become a social economy enterprise that now provides an important service.” Le Zèbre Rouge hires approximately 20 people. “They feel more useful. Their self-esteem gets a boost.” Bilodeau explained the positive impact Le Zèbre Rouge has on employees. “When they are working, they are not showing any symptoms. They will not hear voices. They don’t have negative thoughts. They don’t feel anxious.”

Bilodeau drew a parallel between recycling bicycles and changing people’s attitude toward mental illness. “The recycling work needs to be done on us first if we are to help people affected by mental illness reintegrate society.”

Attendees were shown a short video of Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Peter Schiefke addressing parliament the day before the gala. “Mental health illness does not discriminate against race, gender or age, it affects all of us, from ridings from coast to coast. Our riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges is no exception. Over the last few years alone, our community has grieved the losses of a young and talented cinematographer from Rigaud, an incredible father from Vaudreuil-Dorion, and a dedicated father of two from Hudson. The challenges that mental health issues pose are becoming better understood, as is the realization that it will take all of us working together to meet these challenges,” Schiefke stated to the assembled members of parliament.

PHOTO BY JULES-PIERRE MALARTRE Le Zèbre Rouge’s General Manager, Jean-Noël Bilodeau during his allocution during the Ken Lefrançois Memorial Gala for Mental Health.

Schiefke introduced some staggering statistics concerning the mental health of Canadians. “In Canada last year, only two thirds received the treatments they needed. This means that millions of Canadians who were living with disabilities and problems every single day, did not receive the help they needed. The reality is that millions of Canadians are living with mental health challenges and they are either unwilling or unable to treat them.

“It saddens me to say that young Canadians are some of the most affected by mental health challenges. The numbers are even more staggering – 3.2 million Canadians aged 12 to 19 are at risk, which means 25 per cent of deaths among 15 to 30-year-olds each year are from young Canadians taking their own lives. The only thing more likely to take the life of a young Canadian is a car accident.”

Schiefke stressed the importance of investing in mental health. Among other investments, he announced the federal government is investing $114 million to protect vulnerable children. Despite all investments and initiatives being launched, Schiefke said there is still much work to do.