This weekend I had a chance to participate in “Ride Don’t Hide“, an annual community bike ride hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association. The goal of the event is to create awareness about the stigma surrounding mental illness. By working together as communities, the event raises money which allows the CMHA to support mental health initiatives across Canada. I believe 35 Canadian communities hosted events this year.

One of the biggest obstacles encountered by people who experience mental illness is insensitivity from people who don’t understand. I won’t make excuses for the insensitive, but I will suggest that their lack of sensitivity probably stems from lack of knowledge or “awareness” of how difficult life can be for people who suffer from mental illness. And, by the way, approximately one in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime.

That is what the Ride is all about. Putting the word out that we should be informed about mental illness, AND that we can raise money to support programs that help people in our very own communities who need it. Mental illnesses are not always visible at first glance, so it is natural to assume that someone who looks “fine” feels “fine”. We are not always in the position of knowing that a person may be struggling. And, even if we do know that, we are not always in a position to actually or appropriately help. But we are always in a position to be respectful and considerate to EVERYONE we encounter.

So my advice is this: always be respectful and considerate. By approaching the people in your world in this manner, you stand the best chance of not adding to someone else’s misery. By approaching people this way, you may (unknowingly) be the person who turns another’s bad day into a not-so-bad day. And what would happen if you were the kind of person who left a trail of happy debris in your wake? What if you were the kind of person who actually encouraged people and made their world a bit better. Now that would be some kind of legacy to leave, wouldn’t it?

I’ll wrap up with my personal highlight from today’s ride which, by the way, was almost entirely completed in the rain. A family entered in the ride and on our way in (about 2km out from the finish), our group came up on the mother and her young daughter. This youngster had been face-painted earlier, so she was already pretty well-decorated. She was riding along on her little bicycle and was pedaling madly along (at a very high RPM).  I thought her little training wheels were going to burn right off the bike, but she was motoring down the road through the rain with her mom. We cheered her on as we went by and gradually the sound of the training wheels faded.  A few minutes later, at the finish line, we heard the squawk of the OPP cruiser and saw it coming slowly into the parking lot, lights ablaze, and a little girl on a tiny bike with training wheels zooming along just behind. The whole crowd cheered and I felt like I was at the Olympics. This youngster will probably remember that cheering crowd for the rest of her life.

You are always part of the crowd.  Cheer for others.