Olympian Clara Hughes spoke to more than 700 Grade 7 and 8 students from Westman about mental health issues on Friday.
Hughes biked into Brandon at just after 6 p.m. on Thursday, bringing her journey to 8,850 kilometres since Clara’s Big Ride kicked off on March 14 in Toronto.
"I thought the ride would be the hard part, but it’s the easy part," Hughes said. "The hard part is not having enough time in the communities."
Hughes was raised in Winnipeg before moving to train as an Olympic athlete. She is the only Olympian to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games.
Hughes suffered with depression after winning her first Olympic medals. Her experience has motivated her to talk to Canadians about the tough topic of mental health.
"I didn’t ask for help, I didn’t have the strength to," Hughes said in an opening video.
The Brandon Sun’s Charles Tweed and psychiatric nurse Jennifer Lagimodiere joined Hughes to tell the students about their struggles with mental illness.
"There isn’t enough conversation happening about mental illness," said Tweed, who has battled depression. "This is my first time speaking publicly about my experience."
Students were surprised to find out that a study done by the Canadian Medical Journal shows that one in two Canadians would feel uncomfortable or even fearful when around a person with a serious mental illness.
"It’s kind of mean when you think about it," said a Grade 8 student from Betty Gibson School.
There have not been many conversations about mental health issues at Betty Gibson School, students said. Now, they want to be able to talk about issues more freely.
"I’m always impressed when we give the students an idea what they can do with it," Hughes said.
Coming together to help people who are suffering is the next step that Betty Gibson students want to take.
"We can all spread the message at school or talk to groups and organizations," said two Grade 7 students.
Hughes encourages students if they know of someone who is struggling with mental health issues to not just point them in the direction of help. Take them there and make sure they know that it is OK, she said.
"We can be better," Hughes said. "One person can make a huge difference, many people can make a massive difference."
Hughes biked out of Brandon just before 11 a.m. Friday. She is set to arrive in at Clara Hughes Rec Park in Winnipeg today.
"I am so excited to be back in Manitoba," Hughes said. "Setting aside humility, Manitoba rules."
Clara’s Big Ride will end in Ottawa on Canada Day after more than 11,000 km. The ride is part of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign to break the silence around mental illness.
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