Ottawa sets snowman world record in the name of mental health awareness

Snowmen outnumbered the crowd at Lansdowne’s TD Place stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Ottawans constructed a total of 2,069 snowmen in one hour, taking back the world record from Japan by a close margin of 33 snowmen.

The challenge was put on by Ottawa’s Cracking-Up the Capital Comedy Festival to raise money and awareness in the name of mental health.

An estimated 2,000 people showed up to put their snowman making skills to the test.

Jessica Plummer, 34, was one of them. Plummer participated as team lead under the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health’s banner. When she’s not assembling a snowman building team, Plummer’s the development co-ordinator at the Centre.

The Wabano Centre has a holistic, intergenerational approach to helping those with mental illness. It assists more than 10,000 people in Ottawa each year.

Plummer herself has suffered from bouts of depression, so the cause is personal.

“One of the main things we have to do is break down the stigma.” she said. “So, if you have experienced depression, anxiety or any other trip in your mental health, there’s no reason to feel ashamed by it. There’s no reason to feel like you can’t talk about it.”

Plummer brought her six-year-old daughter along with her to help break the record.

“I make snowmen at school, too,” her daughter said while rolling a snowball around the field alongside many other pint-sized record-breakers.

Plummer said she won’t be having any hard-hitting discussions with her daughter concerning what the event is about today, but says that the key is open dialogue in the future.

“It’s just fun,” said Plummer.

The personal connection participants have with mental illness is what makes the event successful, said Marcy Galipeau, communications director for the Cracking-Up the Capital Comedy Festival.

The overarching theme of mental illness isn’t overwhelming. The emphasis is on fun.

“It’s very subtle in the background,” said Galipeau. “But everyone knows what it’s for.

“This event brings to light how common mental illness is. The whole point is to de-stigmatize the notion of having a mental illness.”

“Everyone knows someone, has been affected by mental illness of some sort,” she said. “This event touches people on a personal level and people really get behind the cause.”

Everyone on the Cracking-Up the Capital committee has been affected by mental illness, said Galipeau, including Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley.

Hubley is the honorary chair of the Cracking-Up the Capital Comedy Festival. He lost his son to suicide in 2011.

“I’ve learned the cost of not being able to help someone with mental health issues,” said Hubley. “I don’t want other families to go through that.

“Awareness is almost as important as raising money for things, because a lot of people with mental health issues need to know that it’s OK to talk about it and to say, ‘I’m not feeling well, I need help.’ And that’s what this event does.”

The increased visibility of mental health programming in the city provided by Cracking-Up the Capital Comedy Festival is one step.

This type of event can provide a starting point for dialogue and help those suffering individually with mental illness to seek help, said Mayor Jim Watson.

“There are a lot of programs to help people in the city who are suffering from mental health illness,” said Watson. “But they’re not always that well-known.”

Organizations that provide mental health programming in the city were represented Sunday at TD Place. The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, Do It For Daron (D.I.F.D.), the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Foundation, Partners for Mental Health, Amethyst Women’s Addiction Centre, and the Causeway all attended.

The money raised from this event will be donated to organizations who support mental illness in the community.

“Last year the event raised $12,000,” said John Helmkay, Cracking Up the Capital’s executive producer. “This year we hope to exceed that.”

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