Michael Schratter taking aim at the damaging stigma that is still pervasive
By Aidan Mouellic, Staff Writer
The statistics say that one in five Canadians will deal with a mental illness within their lifetime. Even you are not one who becomes afflicted by mental illness, the chances of someone close to you being afflicted is high. We may hear murmurs of a friend taking “meds” or a relative being “committed,” but we rarely hear someone speaking openly about their journey through mental disorder. The reason for this lack of dialogue comes from the ever-present stigma that is associated with mental illness.
One person who is changing how people think about mental illness and tackling the stigma head-on is Michael Schratter. Schratter , a 44-year-old school teacher in Vancouver, founded the charitable foundation Ride Don’t Hide to inform the public about the devastating effects that stigma has on people dealing with mental illness. To raise awareness for the cause, Schratter embarked on a journey around the world by bicycle on August 1, 2010. After riding through 33 countries and logging 40,000 kilometres on his pannier-laden Norco, Schratter arrived back in Vancouver to a warm reception at Rogers Arena in November of 2011. The ride raised over $94,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association and spread a message of hope and acceptance to those struggling with mental illness.
The cause is personal for Schratter since he gained first-hand experience of the effects of mental illness during his adolescent years. That’s when he experienced his first depressive episode right after high school, which led to a failed suicide attempt. Following the death of his father in a cycling accident a few years later, he experienced his first manic episode. The depressive episode followed by the manic episode led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. For Schratter, the stigma surrounding his illness was more harmful than the actual effects of the disorder. After spending about a week at UBC hospital for the manic episode, the care team at UBC advised Schratter to lie to people about what he had gone through instead of tell them the truth. Schratter says, “It bothered me more than the emotional hiccup that I went through with the manic episode; I couldn’t deal with the notion that I had something to be ashamed of, as if this was some sort of character flaw.”
Schratter says the experience opened his eyes to the “deafening silence that surrounds mental illness.” He emphasizes that humans are “uber-social animals that need the support of the group to heal from physical and psychological injuries.” Ride Don’t Hide is the social vehicle that Schratter created to make the necessary changes happen and to foster the power of social interaction.
Schratter and Ride Don’t Hide have teamed up with Shoppers Drug Mart this year to put on a community bike ride to raise awareness and funds for the cause of women’s mental health. In British Columbia, there will be 13 rides in various communities, including Vancouver, on June 23.The ride in Vancouver will be centered around Central Park in Burnaby and will be in routes of varying distances for riders of all abilities. The Shoppers Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide is aiming to raise $400,000 this year and attract over 2,500 riders. To register for the ride go to www.RideDontHide.com or if you want to ride with some fellow Douglas College students, contact The Other Press for further information.