Helping the many who suffer in silence

Peninsula Community Foundation launches fund to support mental-health services ahead of next week's Vintage Affair.

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As president of the Peninsula Community Foundation, Curtis Christopherson is familiar with how passionate residents of White Rock and South Surrey are when it comes to giving back to the community.

Whether it’s raising funds for the state-of-the-art Centre for Active Living, helping dreams come true by supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation or promoting active lifestyles with KidSport, Christopherson has witnessed no shortage of generosity from residents and businesses on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

In planning this year’s Vintage Affair, which takes place Oct. 22 at Hazelmere Golf and Country Club, Christopherson said the foundation came to realize there is a facet in the community that’s in desperate need of more support.

“Over the past year, we’ve all been struck by a number of stories about the impacts of mental health in our community,” Christopherson said. “While there are some great resources that exist in the Peninsula area, it’s clear that more can be done to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental health.”

The issue of mental illness is one that South Surrey resident Sara Montgomery is all too familiar with. She describes herself as an advocate for change, who, like many in the community, has close ties with people who have suffered from serious depression, with tragic outcomes.

Citing figures she garnered from Statistics Canada, Montgomery pointed out that suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent over the past 45 years, and that in B.C., approximately 500 people commit suicide every year – more than one person per day.

“These statistics should make people think when they are sitting in a coffee shop, working at the office, coaching a team or hanging out with a group of friends, there is likely at least one person affected by this illness,” Montgomery said, noting that popularity, success, financial security and family support can sometimes mask an individual’s struggles.

“Although there are scenarios that can make an individual more susceptible, there is no stereotype to identify which people are suffering from mental illness.”

Montgomery said removing the stigma associated with mental illness, which can often prevent someone from seeking help, is paramount. So is educating the community about the symptoms of mental illness and the help available to those in need.

“It’s about compiling all the resources we currently have to support mental health and providing the best care options for our community,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Peninsula Community Foundation announced it would be establishing a new fund to provide money for programs and services in the community that raise awareness and build acceptance of mental health issues, as well as provide support and solutions to those seeking help.

The foundation hopes to raise $50,000 at next week’s Vintage Affair to kick off the fund; Christopherson said he hopes that using the organization’s premiere event to shine a spotlight on mental illness will also pique the interest of groups in the community that offer education and support, but may be in need of funding assistance.

“That’s what the foundation is all about,” he said. “We act as a conduit for connecting people with causes that matter and helping to facilitate the important work they do.”

Montgomery is optimistic that with the Peninsula Community Foundation on board, those in need of support services will have better access. Starting a conversation about mental illness, she said, is part of the “pro-active approach” needed to address the issue throughout the community.

“I suspect every home in our community, in one way or another, has been affected by this illness,” she said. “Together we can group our efforts to prevent further pain and suffering that has been at the hands of mental illness.”

Tickets for Vintage Affair – which will feature 30 vintners and food pairings, entertainment and door prizes – are available online at www.peninsulafoundation.ca

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