Photo by Justin Schellenberg

Outrun the Stigma laces up for another year of mental health awareness

By Matty Hume, September 7 2018 —

On Oct. 21, Calgarian shoes will hit the pavement to bring awareness to the societal stigma surrounding mental health.

Outrun the Stigma is a non-profit organization founded by Amy Li in 2013. It hosts an annual run and walk event to raise money for the Calgary Distress Centre — Calgary’s crisis centre for mental health and suicide prevention. In previous years, the event has been hosted on campus with primarily student engagement. This year’s event is the first time the Calgary chapter will host the run off-campus with the hopes of increasing engagement with the wider Calgary community.

“Li started this in 2013 when she noticed the gap in running culture. There’s runs for breast cancer awareness, prostate cancer and all that stuff, but not mental health,” said Sara Mallett, a co-chair of Outrun the Stigma. “We’ve moved from being just a student club — having a couple hundred students in total — to over 2,000 volunteers. But it doesn’t have to be just students. This year, we’re taking it off campus which is huge because we wanted to make it more of a city-wide initiative and grow our numbers.”

October’s event will take place at Eau Claire near Prince’s Island Park in the festival market space. In addition to a change of location, Outrun the Stigma is hoping to change the tone of the event itself.

“We’ve definitely had to grow and learn different strategies and promotion. The structure of the run also is changing this year,” Mallett said. “We’re changing up how we do the performances. Last year we had someone sharing a really intense, kind of dark and depressing story. We’re trying to make it a bit more upbeat.”

Outrun the Stigma has already raised almost $80,000 for the Calgary Distress Centre. According to the Distress Centre, it costs over $2,000 to train a single volunteer for the crisis centre, with volunteers being the backbone of the organization. While raising money for the crisis centre is a primary goal, Outrun the Stigma hopes to remain conscious of the changing dialogue surrounding mental health and keep their initiatives current.

“It started off as trying to fill that gap [in running culture] and I think Outrun the Stigma not only takes that on, but we’re also asking, ‘What are the other gaps or initiatives?’ ” said Alisha Gordon, a member of Outrun the Stigma’s communications team. “For me, I’m really passionate about that culture gap. People from different religious or cultural backgrounds can’t just go to a councillor — it’s a different thing for some people. That’s something that Outrun the Stigma touched on.”

While the annual run is Outrun the Stigma’s primary event, the organization maintains social media communications year-round, plus posting people’s mental health stories and organizing smaller events such as paint nights and nature walks.

“I think the empowerment aspect is significant too,” Gordon said. “I’m really excited and I think that’s really going to shine through.”

Registration as either a volunteer or participant in Outrun the Stigma as well as submitting donations is possible through the Calgary chapter’s webpage. Registration costs $20 until Oct. 1 or $25 afterwards. There is no registration deadline, meaning walk-on participation is possible on Oct. 21. You can keep up to date with Outrun the Stigma on their Facebook page.

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