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Mental health is being talked about now more than ever, and for obvious reasons. But regardless of the pandemic, it’s a topic that warrants ongoing conversation, as it’s relevant to every single one of us. Whether or not you’ve experienced mental illness personally, you undoubtedly know somebody who has – even if they haven’t disclosed it.

The fact that so many people go without speaking up and accessing support means that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to mental health advocacy, which is why it’s encouraging to see someone like Olivia Duwyn taking up the cause and running with it – quite literally.

Training for the May 1 marathon; Photo: Kerry Wilkinson

Duwyn, who is in her second year of the social work program at King’s University College, has spent the last half-year raising money for the adolescent mental health unit at the Owen Sound Regional Hospital.

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Her idea was to complete a triathlon in parts, setting fundraising goals for each third, but it’s turned out to be a far bigger success than she could have imagined. Duwyn aimed for $1000 for the first event, a 1 km swim in Georgian Bay. The amount was surpassed easily and she carried through with the swim in late October, in below-freezing temperatures and amidst a snowstorm, no less. Next on the list was a 25 km bike ride and a target of $2500.

Biking her 25km ride; Photo: Kerry Wilkinson

Again, her community rallied and the funds poured in, and she completed the ride in November with her grandfather Don Wilkinson – an avid cyclist himself and her training partner – by her side.

Rolling with the momentum, Duwyn decided to go all-in for the final stretch, a 42.2 km run. Initially, the goal was set at $4220, but it was met almost immediately. So, she raised it to $10,000 and the donations kept pouring in. Now, with over $12,000 raised, Duwyn is hoping to get to $15,000 by her May 1st run.

Training day; Photo: Kerry Wilkinson

“It just makes me so happy to know that everyone is coming together for this,” she says of the incredible support she’s received. In fact, it reflects the level of support that’s needed by the entire mental health field and anyone affected by mental illness – something that Duwyn is keenly aware of.

One of the main reasons for undertaking this fundraiser in the first place is her own struggle with mental illness, which began in early adolescence. It was several years before she reached out for help, though, finally speaking to a high school guidance counsellor when she was in grade 12.

Duwyn spent time in the adolescent mental health unit for which she’s currently raising money. While it was a difficult step to take, opening up about what she was experiencing has led to ongoing support, and she urges others to do the same. “I definitely understand being afraid to speak up, because there’s so much stigma around mental health issues. But just confiding in someone is the best way to go. It has saved my life… It is a scary thing… but just [reach] out for help, because you will find someone who can help you.”

For Duwyn, having a supportive family, a good counsellor and psychiatrist, and understanding friends are integral to maintaining mental wellness. And a dog of course.

Duwyn and her trusty dog, Maisey; Photo: Jesse Wilkinson

Naturally, staying active is also beneficial, as a way to both relieve stress and keep a consistent routine, which is why doing a triathlon as a fundraiser makes perfect sense. It’s been a way for her to combine advocacy and well-being, while at the same time serving the program that played an important role in her life.

The money raised will go toward purchasing much-needed items for youth who access the hospital unit, such as journals, art supplies, socks and underwear, and good quality toiletries. “Because you go in [the hospital] with nothing,” explains Duwyn, “Little things like that make you feel better.”

Feeling good mid-run; Photo: Kerry Wilkinson

Duwyn’s own journey has become the foundation on which she’s creating her future as a mental health professional. Already, she has under her belt several years of experience as a volunteer swimming coach for the Special Olympics. She also volunteers with CMHA London and is part of a team there, along with other volunteers and professionals, that is developing a course for people when they get out of hospital for mental illness, in order to help them with the transition from hospital to home.

“I just hope that, by sharing my story and by showing that I have gone through some very bad stuff, that it will show people that it’s okay to get help, or that it’s okay to tell people that you are struggling. Having a mental illness isn’t a bad thing. It can be hard at times, but I think it makes you a more insightful person into other people’s issues in life.”

Already a source of inspiration to those around her, there’s no doubt that Duwyn’s empathy and determination will make her an asset to the field of mental health.

If you’re interested in supporting Duwyn in her upcoming run, you can donate online at https://www.oshfoundation.ca/olivia-tri/ .

You can also follow her fundraiser on Facebook at to see updates.

Finally, if you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, this is a list of resources you can access for information and support:

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): https://cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness

Keystone Child, Youth, and Family Services: 519-371-4773 or www.keystonebrucegrey.org/

Kids Help Phone: call 1-800-668-6868, or text 686868

Mental Health Crisis Line of Grey Bruce: 1-877-470-5200 or www.cmhagb.org

Recommended mental health apps:

MY3 (suicide prevention app, lets you create a safety plan and list your 3 support people who you can contact in a crisis)

notOK (another crisis intervention app, lets you put five trusted contacts into the app and when you click the giant red button while in crisis it sends your location to these people, as well as a message saying “I’m not okay, please reach out to me!”)

MoodTools (for depression mainly, you can create a safety plan and log your thoughts, and watch videos to help improve your mood)

Happily (you can play games, journal from different prompts, and get suggestions for activities to do to improve your mood or have a distraction)

Written by Sarah Goldman

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