Saturday, February 24, 2018

Naked bungee jumping to promote mental-health awareness

February 15, 2017 by Mason Hendricks, web editor

Bungee jumping is a way to conquer fears. Bungee jumping naked is a way to conquer more than one fear—and, at an upcoming event, it’s a way to raise awareness for mental health issues as well.

British Columbia Schizophrenic Society (BCSS) administrative coordinator Hazel Meredith, who helps manage the naked bungee jumping event at WildPlay Element Parks in Nanaimo, says it’s about embracing fear, working hard against stigma, and making sure that the organization is reaching out to folks who maybe didn’t think that recovery was possible or that help was available.

“I think we’ve been making some great strides, and people are more apt to be reaching out for help, which has created more need for adequate assistance,” says Meredith. “There is stigma out there. I think stigma lives where people are fearful, when we hear that mental health affects one in five people. Definitely just taking the time to listen to a person creates a different space where humanity can be embraced.”

A participant from a previous year bares it all and jumps for a cause during the Naked Bungy Jump for BCSS (photo by Kara Udell).

Although she herself has not personally struggled with mental-health issues, Meredith has certainly felt the ripples of mental illness, as it has affected her own family.

“I have lost members of my family to suicide,” she says. “It really touches so many more people once you share your story, and once you do, they are usually more apt to share theirs, and—lo and behold—our humanity comes forward, and we can shine a light on the fact that we have more in common than not. I have also had depression run in my family, so mental-health issues are no stranger to my family and many folks that we know.”

First-year Camosun Psychology student Cameron Webster volunteers for the BCSS and has participated in the event in previous years.

“People come to jump, they come to spectate, they come to speak, and some people come to do all three,” he says.

Webster has dealt with schizophrenia; he was hospitalized in the summer of 2014, and it still affects him to this day, although now he is taking medication and is in a more stable condition.

“I still sometimes have residual symptoms,” he says. “It was terrifying. I was delusional, I was hallucinating, I had problems with cognition and organized thinking… It was a scary time, because lots of weird stuff goes through your head, and you can’t even trust your perception of reality. I’m doing lots of public speaking, where I talk about the things that I’ve been through.”

Robyn Thomas is a first-year jumper and mental health awareness advocate who will be speaking at the event. She sometimes volunteers for the Stigma Free Society, where she speaks to elementary-school, high-school, and university students. She became involved with the cause after having her own recent brush with mental-health issues.

“I had my own experience with psychosis a year ago,” says Thomas, “so February 18 is a memorable date for me, because that’s when I was released from the hospital last year. It was just a really dark time where I didn’t feel hopeful that I would ever recover, so I thought it was kind of cool timing, too. I really just want to share my story and inspire people to be able to come forward and be able to talk about it.”

Thomas also believes there is a certain stigma attached to mental health, and that it is perhaps not taken as seriously as other kinds of illnesses or injuries. She will be jumping, although she won’t be doing it naked—she finds bungee jumping and public speaking frightening enough as it is. She will also give a speech about mental-health awareness and assistance; for her, even giving the speeches is conquering a fear.

“I think it’s a lot easier to talk about physical health,” she says. “For example, if I was in the hospital with a broken leg I would probably post it on Facebook and tell all my friends. But when I was in the hospital, in the psych ward, I didn’t want anyone to know. Bungee jumping definitely freaks me out a bit. Talking about my mental-health struggles is something that I think is fear-conquering enough. Public speaking and presenting on mental health is something that I do now quite a bit, so I’m slowly getting more comfortable with it.”

Naked Bungy Jump for BCSS
Saturday, February 18 to Monday, February 20
WildPlay Element Parks, Nanaimo
35 Nanaimo River Road

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