Mental Health Awareness breakfast in Wilmot helps remove stigma

Goal was to help fight the stigma surrounding mental health by telling stories of hope and healing

Doug and Sandra Ranton, Cavell Johnson, and Chris Jaroszko at the Wilmot Health Awareness Breakfast which was held on Nov. 20. (Photo: Nigel Gordijk)

Three lives were lost to suicide during the 2007 Labour Day weekend, and that tragic period was the catalyst for local groups to band together.

Over the next few months, Wilmot Family Resource Centre, Interfaith Counselling Centre, Waterloo-Oxford D.S.S., the Waterloo Region District School Board, and local police met, seeking ways to prevent more suicides.

This evolved into Suicide Action Wilmot Wellesley, focusing on five core actions: prevention, awareness, empowerment, resiliency, and access to community resources.

The fourth annual Mental Health Awareness Breakfast was held Nov. 20 at Steinmann Mennonite Church, hosted by SAWW, a planning group consisting of representatives from ICC, WFRC, Rotary Wilmot, the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington, and community members. Its goal was to help fight the stigma surrounding mental health by telling stories of hope and healing.

Proceeds from the 195 tickets that were sold will support SAWW’s work. The event featured speakers Chris Jaroszko, Doug and Sandra Ranton, and Cavell Johnson.

Jaroszko’s previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder led him to attempt suicide.

Since his diagnosis in 2008, he said, “I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to people in order to bring about awareness of mental illness, suicide and, most importantly, recovery.”

He credits his supportive and loving family that stuck with him through all the ups and downs that were affecting his personal relationships, education and employment. Appearing at this event, he said, was “another way to share my story of hope.”

The Rantons spoke of their son Jacob’s struggles with mental health and the lack of any outward signs. Jacob was an accomplished student basketball player who died by suicide in 2014 at the age of 20.

Doug Ranton placed his son’s photo and basketball shoes on chairs on the stage, and Sandra referred to his “life-threatening illness”, comparing it to cancer.

She talked about working to remove the stigma around mental health, and praised local students Olivia Miller and Gretta Dotzert, founders of Bridges of Hope.

“It’s the youth who are leading this movement. Us old folks need to listen and learn.” Doug urged the audience, “Go home and open the dialogue with your families about mental health.”

Johnson, coach of the KW Titans basketball team, paused and took deep breaths several times, trying to gather his thoughts.

His older brother Aaron died in 2017.

Just as the Rantons with their son, there were no signs Johnson’s brother was dealing with mental health issues.

“It wasn’t until I lost Aaron to suicide that I learned I needed to open my heart more. I needed to have uncomfortable conversations," said Johnson. 

He recalled a more recent time when his younger brother, Sean, also needed help to get through a dark period.

“It’s important to know that we’re not alone. We need to reach out to loved ones who we think are struggling.”

“Show them that we care for them, and help them through their turmoil.”

If you are in crisis outside of office hours, call Here 24/7: 1-844-437-3247. Visit www.Here247.ca for details. For counselling support or to arrange safeTALK training, contact Interfaith Counselling Centre during office hours (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.): 519-662-3092.