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June 8th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 23
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Darcy’s Nature Walk for mental health on June 11
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Photo courtesy: Lens on Nature by Trent Enzsol
More than 300 people took part in Darcy’s Nature Walk in 2015. The event celebrates and raises the profile of Mental Wellness. While it’s free to register and participate in the walk, people are encouraged to make a donation to the Crowsnest Pass Health Foundation. This year’s walk takes place June 11 at Fireman’s Park in Bellevue.
KERRI ROBINS
Healing has been a long time coming for Randi Lynn Rinaldi and her family.

“We watched our mother struggle with depression all our lives but didn’t really understand what it was when we were younger,” says Randi Lynn who, as a young girl, watched her mother Darcy Rinaldi live with bouts of severe depression that kept her off work for periods of time.

“Mom was formally diagnosed with depression and on medication. You could tell that she was so sad, and battling with such unhappiness,” adds the 35-year-old Bellevue woman. “It was hard because you didn’t know what to do or how to help,”

Darcy’s last battle with depression raged five months in 2007, from August to December that year when she ended her life at 51.

“It was an empty feeling for the whole family, and the question of why came up so many times,” recalls Randi Lynn.

It wasn’t long after their loss that the Rinaldi family decided to organize Darcy’s Nature Walk for Mental Wellness — an event intended to raise awareness of the importance of mental health.

Darcy’s husband Randy, and his children Julie and Kelly along with Randi Lynn, organized the first walk nine years ago in May 2008.

“Our goal was and still is, to give people a safe place to speak out about mental illness so we can erase the stigma it causes; and we want to do this through physical activity and being in nature because that’s so important to helping keep a positive mental outlook,” says Randi Lynn.

This year’s nature walk will take place June 11 at Fireman’s Park in Bellevue.

Participants have the option of three paths. For those who want to keep things simple, there’s a 4 km paved pathway through town; it’s also ideal for strollers and wheelchairs.

Participants eager for a little more challenge can choose to walk on two different nature trails each winding around town about five kilometres long.
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“There’s so much confusion when someone takes their life — and I think the walk helps give us purpose and a way to deal with our emotions,” adds Randi Lynn.

Dr. Laura Calhoun, a psychiatrist and provincial senior medical Director with Alberta Health Services (AHS) Addiction & Mental Health, says: “It’s hard for people to talk about mental illness because of the stigma. Our society doesn’t view mental illness and physical illness the same way, even though both are based in biological changes.

“When a mental illness is diagnosed, recovery is always the goal, the same as it is with a physical illness. Recovery doesn’t mean cure, what it means is getting people back to doing what they want and need to do, for a healthy and full life.”

Randi Lynn’s brother Kelly was instrumental in starting and organizing the walk because he saw it as a way to not only honour their mother, but to get people speaking out about mental illness.

“The walk really helped us to realize that there are a lot of people out there dealing with mental illness, or who have someone close to them struggling with the illness. I think knowing this gives us hope.”

Sadly, as it turned out, Kelly himself was suffering; he seemed to change in ways the family didn’t always understand.

“Kelly’s behaviour had changed somewhat after the first few years we hosted the walk,” says Randi Lynn. “It seemed like it was depression symptoms but he was never formally diagnosed.”

Tragically, Kelly died by suicide at the age of 37 in May 2012. Randi Lynn says her family misinterpreted the warning signs because he hid them so well.

“He was engaged to be married later that year and we just thought he was settling down somewhat and starting to think marriage and family.”
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Randi Lynn says it’s crushing to know now that he was suffering.

“Even though we’d been through this, and felt knowledgeable about mental illness and depression, we had no idea that Kelly wasn’t well, which is exactly why we need to keep talking about mental illness,” says Randi Lynn.

“Kelly helped so many others but never sought help himself, which suggests he might have felt personal stigma but would never judge others. We’ll never know what he was experiencing.”

Registration for the walk is free, but people are encouraged to donate to mental health. Over the walk’s nine-year history, more than $80,000 has been raised.

Donations go to the Crowsnest Pass Health Foundation and have supported grief support programs in Blairmore, built a family comfort room at the Crowsnest Pass Health Centre, and set up a scholarship for students in the area wishing to pursue a career in health care.

As well, funds have supported the community by making courses in Mental Health First Aid Canada available at no cost; taught by trained staff through the Mental Health Commission.

Foundation Chair Becky Rinaldi, who is also Darcy’s sister-in-law and Kelly’s aunt, says this particular fundraiser is very close to her heart.

“Mental illness is serious, and before the walk, it seemed this illness was very hush-hush in our community,” says Becky. “We were open about Darcy and Kelly and over the years, the walk has helped people open up about personal experiences with mental illness.”

The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates about 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience mental illness in their lifetime.

According to AHS and the World Health Organization, more than 500 people die by suicide in Alberta every year, and 78 per cent of those deaths are men. In fact, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.

Blairmore-based Janne Aikins, Child Life Specialist, Addiction and Mental Health Services, Southwest Alberta for AHS, has participated in the walk every year.

“My motivation for the walk started for personal reasons because our family knows the Rinaldis and I used to hike with Darcy.”

For her part, Aikins hosts a booth at the walk complete with mental-health literature. She also makes herself available to speak to people about mental health perspectives, both as a professional and as a friend and neighbor in the community.

“The Rinaldi family has highlighted mental health and illness in our community and have made some great and lasting changes in the midst of incredible loss and pain,” says Aikins. “They are courageous and I admire their commitment to helping others.”

Both Randi Lynn and Becky agree: “The walk is tough given it’s in memory of our family. But it’s special at the same time because we keep their memory alive — and the walk has generated a lot of positive outcome after a lot of heartbreak.”

For more information, or to lace up for the walk, please visit Darcy’s Nature Walk for Mental Wellness, email cnpwalk@gmail.com, or call (403)707-8574.
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