Finding Purpose in Tragedy: Raising Awareness for Mental Health One Run at a Time

“Hardship often prepares ordinary people for extraordinary destiny…” -C. S. Lewis

Point blank, if you asked Andrea Gordon if she considered herself a leader, without hesitation, she’d say yes.

Over the last five months, she has faced tragic loss, unimaginable grief, personal resolve, and empowerment. Through adversity, she discovered the undeniable power of her voice to ignite action and lead with purpose.

On a regular day in June, Gordon’s whole world changed forever. Her partner, David, the one she says was “the life of every party,” took his own life. She and everyone who knew David were completely blind-sided. By September 1st, she was embarking on a month-long running campaign to raise awareness and funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and Calgary Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSPYYC).

According to the CMHA, men are less likely to voice struggles with mental illness and thoughts of suicide.  And yet, among Canadians of all ages, four of every five suicides are male. This stat drives home the fact that many men suffer from mental illness and depression in silence. Shame continues to be a barrier for many men around depression and mental health. Gordon further suggests that there’s still an element of ‘man-up’ culture and embarrassment surrounding the issue. Hustle culture rewards burning the candle at both ends, and men especially struggle with asking for help, despite the open dialogue in recent years.

“Move forward even though it hurts.”

For Gordon, running is part of her self-care tool kit. She describes it as moving meditation. During a run on August 31st, she decided she would run every day in September, which also happened to be Suicide Prevention month. With running, as with the struggle with depression, there’s a tipping point where you need to decide to move forward even if it hurts, as she points out. Half-way through the run, a plan was beginning to hatch. By the end of that day, she set up a Go-Fund-Me campaign, and she was all in, setting a $5,000 goal. Eleven days later, she hit that amount. It was beyond her wildest expectations, but she wasn’t surprised. She believed in what she was doing and in the power of the message. It was at this point that Gordon realized she could make an even bigger impact.

Gordon recognized she needed to maintain momentum, knowing donations naturally tend to slow once a campaign goal is hit. While scrolling social media, she noticed that CSPYYC was holding their Run For Life virtually this year, on the same weekend she was planning to close out the campaign. She registered for the run and announced that all donations surpassing her original goal would go to CSPYYC. It worked like a charm – the second wave of donations started rolling in.

“I believe that people will listen to me.”

Social media proved to be an excellent asset for Gordon in raising awareness and funds for an important cause and her ability to connect and mobilize people. As she started sharing her efforts, her DM’s filled up with encouraging messages. But she also noticed some of those messages were from people who wished they could join – but put limits on why they couldn’t. Immediately, she began to brainstorm ways to organize and show them her efforts weren’t an exercise in how far she could run, but one of community creation – how an accumulation of many little things can create something big.

“It was so rad!”

On her final run to close out the month and the campaign, Gordon decided to go big. She put a call out on social media inviting people to run or walk 1km with her. Over 20 people showed up. “It was so rad!” she shares. Her 70-year-old father showed up to run, her mother and Dave’s family came out too. People she’d never met came and ran because they saw her story on social media. In the end, she ran 25km that day. Bringing people together in this was an electrifying experience, she says, one that has sparked a shift in her career aspirations in advocacy and helping people.

“Every little bit creates a ripple effect.”

With each run, social post, and message transmitted, Gordon channeled tragic loss into positive action. At the close of the campaign, which coincided with World Mental Health day, she had raised a total of $11,500, split between CMHA and CSPYYC. For Gordon, this initiative wasn’t just about raising funds, it was about raising awareness, dismantling the stigma around mental health, and most importantly, an instrumental piece of her healing. She’s no longer fund-raising, but she hasn’t stopped running or advocating. As of today, she’s run 78 consecutive days and counting.

There is so much to take away from Andrea’s story, namely that we all have the power to affect change and to lead. Don’t wait for permission. If there’s something you want to do or a change you want to see, take a step towards it. Trust your voice and speak out about the things you’re passionate about. Each action builds momentum—our actions as individuals can have a far-reaching effect.

For more about Andrea’s advocacy work, connect with her on Instagram.