By Rachael Williams
Danielle Berman vividly remembers the day she pulled up to her driveway in a friend’s vehicle and got the news that her father had died by suicide.
Fifteen years later, the Dundas native has finally made peace with his death and is biking across Canada to raise awareness about the stigmatization of those suffering from mental health issues.
She started her 4,280-kilometre trip in Vancouver in July and will arrive at Dundas Driving Park on Sept. 7.
“People think depression is a choice and that suicide is selfish. What they don’t understand is how courageous it is for these people to wake up every day and fight the battle they are going through,” Berman said.
Mental health was thrust in the spotlight with the suicide two weeks ago of comedian Robin Williams. On social media, critics called his death “cowardly.”
“Some people don’t understand that it’s an illness. It doesn’t matter what resources you have,” Berman said.
Berman’s goal with her Ride Away Stigma bike trip is to raise $60,000 for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. She has raised more than $25,000.
Her father, a respirologist who worked in Hamilton, died in 1999. She was 13 at the time. For years, she felt angry that no one was able to save him from his struggles.
“I also wished that I had known he was struggling, because I thought perhaps I could have saved him,” Berman wrote on her online blog, rideawaystigma.com.
After three years of denial, she began processing her emotions. In Grade 11, Berman battled suicidal thoughts. Her mother convinced her to see a therapist and was given medication to deal with her depression.
Within weeks, she began to feel an improvement in her mental state. She relapsed, but has been off medication for the past four years.
Now, at 28, she wants to share her story to show recovery is possible.
“I have learned to create my own skills and strengths so I won’t spiral back down.”
Her friend, Lawrence Buwalda, is inspired by Berman’s campaign. He has family members who have suffered from mental illness and said the hardest part is thinking you have no one to talk to.
“The silence is a dangerous thing.”
Donations can be made on her website at rideawaystigma.com.