When Peter Waters helped found the Revelstoke Awareness & Outreach Program 10 years ago, there wasn’t much discussion about mental health issues.
Since then, he feels the conversation has come a long way.
“10 years ago there was hardly anything out there at all,” he told me last week.
“Really, the awareness in Revelstoke about mental health issue has come leaps and bounds, and thank God.”
I spoke to Waters, who has bipolar disorder, during RAOP’s 10th anniversary open house at their club house next to the Regent last Wednesday.
The group was founded as a way for people with mental health issues to come together, talk about their problems and be social.
“There was nowhere for people like myself to come to be with other people who are in the same situation,” said Waters. “All it was before was going to see a psychiatrist or counsellor. There was nowhere for us to be together.”
RAOP was founded with about 20 members. The group has lost members — some moved away, while others died. Now, there’s a core group of about a dozen who head downtown to take part in things like games day, take art classes, or just sit and talk.
“It’s a safe place for people to come to coffee, chat about what’s going in their lives. It just a community who have similar issues,” said Waters.
Cecilia Roebuck, who has schizophrenia, said RAOP keeps her busy and gets her out of the house. “All the time I’m home, it’s not good for me,” she said. “It’s been helping me in a lot of different ways.”
Jackie Heppell, another founding member, said many people with mental health issues feel a stigma and might tend to hide at home. RAOP gives them a safe place to get out.
“We can’t stay at home,” she said. “This is a great place to come. It’s lots of fun, it’s safe.”
Last month, RAOP held an art show at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre. Roebuck and Heppell both took part. Waters said it was a “great source of pride” to the group.
“What’s exciting about RAOP, the art group, they don’t copy what they see,” he said. “Each will interpret that in their own way. That’s very, very exciting.”
Waters said the conversation around mental health has increased dramatically in Revelstoke over the years. He noted there’s much more talk in the schools, and the series of articles on mental health written by Dr. David Smith and published by the Review.
“One of the things I meant to do with creating RAOP is to help remove the stigma to mental health,” said Water. “We all have different hurdles in our lives. This is one of them. It’s no different to someone struggling with their tricky heart. These are all disabilities.”