Mental Health Awareness Week is wrapping up in the Pembina Valley

Richard Bage, lead pastor at South Park Mennonite Brethren Church in Altona and chaplain for Altona Fire Department, says now more than ever, it's incredibly important to talk openly about our mental health, because it allows others to do the same.

"Especially coming out of the pandemic. We've seen the downside of, particularly young people, having to be isolated for weeks and months, and even years on end, and that's definitely taken a toll on a lot of people. Coming out of that, I think we're starting to see some of the negative consequences of that." 

In many ways, Bage says his mental health story is his dad's story. 

When his father took his own life following a long, silent struggle with depression, the pastor looked to his church family for support by talking openly about his loss during a morning service.

"We were amazed at how many people stayed back, and started talking about either their own mental health issue, or shared the story of their loved one who struggled with mental health. The common thread seemed to be, 'I thought I was the only one; I didn't know if there was any place that we could go.' For a lot of these people, it was the first time they had ever actually spoken up about it, and the pain they were experiencing."

Bage admits it's only recently we've learned the language to talk about mental health. 

"The more people are willing to be honest with their family, with their friends, about how they're actually feeling," adds Bage, "One of the good things that comes out of that is, in a way, it actually normalizes it. If you're willing to be vulnerable with me, and talk about how you're feeling, that now gives me permission to talk about how I'm feeling when, perhaps, I might have been a little bit hesitant or worried - is he going to get it? The more people talking about it, the more we do awareness campaigns, only good things are going to come out of this."

Having an honest conversation about one's mental health requires a safe place to do so. Bage says anybody can be that safe place for somebody.

"If you're a coach, if you're a music teacher, if you're a schoolteacher, if you're a pastor, if you're a youth leader, if you're an aunt, a good friend - anybody can be a safe place for people. One of the important things to remember is by being that safe place for someone does not mean you need to solve all their problems. That's not what we're talking about here. That's not what people need. Sometimes all people need is a place to be able to share their story, free of judgement."

Bage points out open conversations about mental health help decrease the stigma attached to those struggles. 


Written with files from Ronny Guenther.