When Leanne Fera stands up to speak at this week’s release of her documentary on mental wellness, she’ll be in her comfort zone, talking passionately about something she believes in. Speaking out and standing up for what is important is nothing new to her.
But what makes this presentation exceptional, is that it is inspired by Leanne’s late husband Len Fera who died by suicide one year ago.
The awareness Leanne wants to spread is about men’s mental health, taking care of it and reaching out for help when there’s a need.
Len died at age 59 after 33 years as an educator and as a respected principal at St. Anne Catholic Elementary School.
A few months later, as the school year wound down, Leanne says she was at loose ends because normally she would be helping him with end-of-year gifts.
So she decided to work with a girlfriend to produce T-shirts in Len’s memory that stated “Mental Health Matters, One Day at a Time.”
She distributed them to the teachers at St. Anne’s and then, much to her surprise, requests for the shirts started pouring in.
By fall, she had sold 700 of them and raised $5,800 for the Sarnia Suicide Prevention committee.
That was the beginning of Leanne’s exceptional effort to raise awareness about mental wellness and urge others to reach out for help. She calls it Project Mental Wellness.
This week an official website is being launched (www.projectmentalwellness.com) and a 25-minute documentary is being released at a two-day fundraiser at Imperial City Brew House. Project Mental Health is taking off while Leanne copes with her own grief and that of her children.
“It’s only been a year since I lost my husband and people ask me how we’re doing,” she said. “I tell them I get up each day and take it as it comes. That’s all any of us can do.
“I can’t explain it. I have been given this gift to use my voice for good and I know my husband is cheering me on. I have no doubt.
“I will boldly share my story with everyone, every day, because every single one of us is affected by mental health,” said Leanne.
Those who know Leanne describe her as someone who thinks outside the box.
“She is really passionate, assertive, motivated and ready to bring new ideas to the table,” says Matt Barnes, counsellor with Southwest Counselling Services.
When Leanne broached her idea to hold an event to raise awareness around mental health and suicide at Imperial City Brew House, Matt was not entirely behind it but he soon came around.
“Alcohol and mental health really don’t fit in my mind but when she explained that the message needs to be taken to where the men are, it made sense to me.
“I think it’s exceptional that she is honouring Len and focusing on men’s mental health,” said Matt.
This weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, “Things We Should Say – A Mental Wellness Project” takes place at Imperial City Brew House at 1330 Exmouth Street. The event has been in the works for about seven months, enough time for the brewery to create a new golden lager called “Things We Should Say” to be unveiled at Imperial City on Saturday, along with a documentary that Leanne worked on with Frameworks Media Inc.
The documentary shares the devastation attached to suicide from the viewpoint of survivors of loss and first responders. Matt also provides his perspective as a counsellor.
“Leanne wants to be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves,” says friend Heather Taylor. “She’ll say she is Len’s voice.”
Heather calls Leanne extremely resilient and said that raising awareness and letting people know there’s help out there is Leanne’s way of helping the community and working through her grief simultaneously.
“She’s doing it all,” said Heather. “She’s done the typical things like counselling too, and this is a project she’s taken on mainly for others.”
Friend Angela Sekeris puts it this way. “Leanne and her girls have endured what many people say is an unspeakable loss, and in the midst of this she has taken her enormous loss and is advocating and making the unspeakable ‘speakable’. And she’s doing it with strength and dignity and honouring Len in the best possible way.”
The documentary was released in a special showing to first responders two days ago and tickets for Saturday’s event at Imperial City Brew House sold out within hours. A second showing was added for Sunday with a few tickets left at press time (https://www.simpletix.com/e/things-we-should-say-a-mental-wellness-pro-tickets-126676).
A portion of sales will go back to Project Mental Wellness for further community education, workshops and retreats.
More events are planned this spring including a Farm-to-Table dinner. All details are on the website or Project Mental Wellness Facebook page.
“So much is going on in my heart and in my head,” said Leanne. “It’s morphing into something magnificent.”
And remember, if you are looking for some mental health support, the Canadian Mental Health Association has a 24-hour crisis line at 519-336-3445. Talk Suicide Canada can be reached at 1-833-456-4566.
Who do you consider an exceptional person in Sarnia/Lambton? Nominate someone you know and explain why you think they should be The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week. Email [email protected].