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Rainy start doesn't dampen mental health cyclist's enthusiasm for cross-country mission

Smithers Interior News - 5/16/2024

On May 6, Jade Dulle headed into the rain from Prince Rupert on her way to St. John's, Newfoundland to raise awareness for better mental health services.

She arrived in SmithersMay 10, where she said the start of her trip had gone off without a hitch.

"So, it's the first day from the ocean essentially ascending, there's a lot of hard mountain climbs for the first 50 kilometres, and it was pouring rain," she said. "And coming from Saskatchewan, it's quite a dry province. So I wasn't used to the all-day rain. So it was really wet. But the cycling community came out and joined me for the first part of my journey at the ocean. Really positive energy felt, really safe on the road, just felt protected."

It is a very personal mission for her.

"Around the age of 18, I started experiencing symptoms of a mental health concern," said Dulle. "I didn't actually know what it was. I went to the Saskatchewan emergency room as I was experiencing quite severe mental health concerns. I was told that they didn't have the resources for me."

Dulle was adopted at the age of two and later discovered she was predisposed to schizophrenia through her biological parents.

"So for the next eight years, I lived with something I didn't understand as I didn't have a lot of history on myself. My parents didn't really know and we asked for help. I went into the emergency room over 12 times in a mental health crisis, and I was sent home every single time."

Dulle's negative experiences inspired her to enter the social work field, though she again found herself disillusioned with a system failing to aid many of those she worked with.

"I was a social worker, I was advocating for these people. I learned how to navigate the system, but was still sent home," she said.

"There has to be something more that we can do to improve things because obviously the system is flawed."

This is not Dulle's first major cycling tour. She biked across Saskatchewan to raise money for mental health awareness in 2017. This time her mission is different though, as Dulle said conversations around mental health are frequent, but the health care systems in place are not sufficient.

"I was basically trying to decrease mental health stigma and a lot of campaigns during that time. We were just trying to normalize talking about mental health. And I truly believe that my campaign, along with many others, have succeeded, as now we definitely talk about it," Dulle said.

"My new mission statement is now we're talking about mental health, but now we have to do something about it."

Dulle — who expects to complete the journey in about three months — is seeking stories of folks across the country who have had challenges with mental health service gaps in Canada, and is looking for cycling partners along the journey.

The ride and the conversations she has along the way will also be the subject of Dulle's thesis for her social work master's program at the University of Regina.

"It's kind of an informal type of research," she said.

"I'll be interviewing people along the way and I want people who feel comfortable to share stories and their viewpoints about how they think the mental health system can improve, because it's not just my story. It's not just other people's stories. It's our entire nation's story."

Dulle met with some nurses while in Smithers.

"I'm focusing more on the conversations I'm having. People are sharing their stories telling us kind of where mental health gaps can improve. And it's going to be different in each province," she added. "[In Smithers], they feel the same way that I do about everything. It's not the professionals' fault in the system. It's the system itself that we need to change.

"And it needs to come from the experience of the service user. How they feel in the system, and how we can change it to make it help them and give them high quality and accessible services."

She is planning on wrapping up her trip on July 30 at Terry Fox's Mile Zero in St. John's.

Anyone wanting to follow along on her journey or donate can vist her website.

-with files from Seth Forward