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Thursday, August 21, 2014

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Cyclist rides to publicize mental illness

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HAMILTON — Danielle Berman’s dad had a passion for cycling. And this summer, Danielle will ride almost 4,300 kilometres in his memory.

Berman’s father, Dr. Les Berman died by suicide in 1999. This July, in a trip she has dubbed Ride Away Stigma, Berman, will ride from Vancouver to Hamilton to encourage open discussion about mental health and reduce the stigma of mental illness. She also plans to raise $60,000 for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

“My dad loved cycling and the outdoors and adventure,” said Berman, 27. “I thought it was the perfect match to combine what he loved to do with what helps me when I’m struggling with my mental health.”

Berman, who will be riding 80 to 120 kilometres a day, is in daily contact with her bike coach. Her training includes core workouts and one- to four-hour bike rides, which she will ramp up in the spring.

She will start her ride in mid-July and plans to return to the Dundas Driving Park in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday, Sept. 7, a few days before World Suicide Prevention Day.

Berman grew up in Dundas. Her father had moved there from South Africa in 1975, and later started a sleep disorders and respiratory health centre.

He had a passion for adventure. Berman remembers a lot of family camping trips and travelling.

“He had a great sense of humour and would have me laughing all of the time,” Berman said. “He was so caring and loving. I also remember him encouraging me to do things outside my comfort zone.

“I am definitely doing that a lot this year.”

Her father died in 1999 when Danielle was 13.

“I knew how he died, but I wasn’t ready to believe he chose to leave,” she said. ““I held on to the belief for a long time that it was an accident. It was a long time until I was able to comprehend that he was so hopeless that he couldn’t see any other option.”

In Grade 11, Berman started experiencing depression.

“I felt so alone. I was hiding it, and I had a fear of being judged if my friends knew what was going on. I knew I was in this darkness, but I didn’t understand it, because everything in my life was going well. Luckily, my mom recognized it and encouraged me to seek help,” Berman said.

“As I started to open up to friends and family, I was fortunate. I was well supported by friends and family. But it’s not like that for everyone unfortunately. As a social worker, I see how much stigma stops people from getting treatment or opening up to friends and family.”

Berman is doing well these days, but she makes sure to have supports in place, such as exercise and being with nature.

Along the ride, she will hold events in various communities and will regularly update her blog and social media sites. Events will be listed on her website.

To make a donation or for sponsorship information, visit rideawaystigma.com. Funds will be divided among the three charities. Berman hopes to finance her travel costs with the help of sponsors.

“I wanted to do something where people would see my dedication. I am investing the time to train and ride,” Berman said. “People can see how important this cause is to me. My hope is for them to start talking about mental health and seeing it in a new light. It is not a choice. It is an illness that can happen to anyone.”

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