Michael Schratter, a Vancouver school teacher who is cycling solo around the world to fight the stigma associated with mental illness, is the first recipient of an award named for revered mental health advocate Dr. Nancy Hall, the Nancy Hall Public Policy Leadership Award.
The award was presented Thursday, September 15 on behalf of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), B.C. Division at the National Conference on Mental Health in Kelowna. David Hall, Nancy’s brother, presented the award to Michael.
Schratter is a unique choice for an award which recognizes individuals who have influenced mental health policy. It might otherwise go to an academic or a health policy expert. He’s not an academic in the usual sense—although he is a Grade Five Teacher at a Vancouver elementary school. But he is aiming for a world-wide impact on public policy.
Michael’s understanding of mental illness has been forged through his own experiences. He has lived with depression, and attempted suicide at his lowest point. He has been diagnosed with hypomania, a form of bipolar disorder as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD.
In a bid to foster greater awareness of mental health issues and help empower people dealing with mental health challenges, Michael embarked on his “Ride Don’t Hide” cycling journey on August 1, 2010 with the goal of cycling 40,000 km around the world. His goal is to shatter the stigma around mental illness by speaking openly about his own battle with mental illness with people he meets in public gatherings, through the media and via his website www.ridedonthide.com. He has raised more than $42,000 for youth and children’s programs for mental health, and hopes to raise at least $100,000 by the time he is done.
Schratter interrupted his Ride Don’t Hide mission to fly into Kelowna to accept the award. He is back on the road Saturday, September 17, pedalling from Thunder Bay on the final leg across Canada. After crossing six continents and 30 countries, he may face his greatest challenge to complete the ride to Victoria without encountering winter conditions in the mountain passes on the way to the coast.
As he heads back on his lonely trek across the TransCanada Highway, Michael will stop and pay homage to the young man who inspired him to undertake his Ride Don’t Hide Mission, Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope at the Lookout, just outside Thunder Bay.
The Dr. Nancy Hall Public Policy Leadership Award will be awarded annually by the CMHA BC Division. The award honours the spirit of the late Dr. Nancy Hall, who acted as a key advisor, consultant, and friend to CMHA BC for more than 15 years and was also the BC government’s Mental Health Advocate from 1998 to 2001. She died in March of this year after a battle with cancer.
David Hall, who, like his sister Nancy, has had a long term focus on public policy and health, told the audience that Michael’s response to his mental health challenges has been inspiring. “Unable to accept the stigma that continues to linger around mental illness,” Hall said, “he has taken it upon himself to get on his bicycle and pedal around the world to spread the message that mental illness is a disease like any other.”