The bands in full regalia pump out marching music! Huge floats, pulled by trailer tractors and loaded with schoolchildren, with more children and their parents and teachers walking behind in a free-forming, anarchistic mass, roll down the street. Costumes, costumes everywhere! Minis, hugging the pavement, weave in and out, sometimes making fancy circles against the flow, like figure skaters on a tear. Now it’s the police band. Then it’s a high school float. And there’s the North Shore Schizophrenia Society, its banner held high, and spectators are applauding – applauding their neighbours and friends in the Society who have made a place in their community for their work and, by raising their banner, are helping to de-stigmatize the most serious of mental illnesses!

It’s the West Vancouver Community Day Parade, held every year in the first week in June. The North Shore Schizophrenia Society is a regular participant. Society members, those suffering from the illness and friends join together to walk the nine-block parade route and celebrate the event, most recently accompanied by a beautiful new sports car courtesy of North Shore Mitsubishi, decorated with streamers and balloons, to add to the sense of occasion. Five or six thousand people line Marine Drive in Ambleside where the parade takes place.

The same kind of celebratory air, music, costumes and colour mark the North Shore Canada Day Parade, July 1, in North Vancouver, with of course one notable difference – red and white maple-leaf flags everywhere to signal the country’s birthday. The North Shore Schizophrenia Society contingent is there too, wearing matching NSSS t-shirts and with a couple of “outriders” handing out leaflets on schizophrenia and on the Family Support Centre to interested spectators. This is an even larger parade than the one in the neighbouring municipality, with a longer route (East 13th, Lonsdale, West 17th) and an estimated twenty thousand people in attendance.

Participation in these parades is an effective way of making our presence known to a fair slice of the North Shore’s population. Parades though they may be, they are also intimate events where the marchers and the crowd make eye contact and wave in greeting.

Behind the gaiety, too, there is, for the North Shore Schizophrenia Society entries at least, a serious purpose – raising awareness of severe mental illness. One day, spectators watching one of the parades may have a daughter, son, brother, sister or friend who shows signs of falling ill with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, or another mental illness. In the past, those family members or friends might have tried hiding from the possibility of the illness and avoided taking action until the illness had become devastating and the expected level of recovery was lower than it might have been with early intervention. Now, remembering the NSSS parade entry, they’ll realize that’s there’s no stigma to be attached to the illness and will quickly seek information at the Family Support Centre, and medical help for the ill person.

….So ours is a parade entry with an unspoken but heartfelt message. The next time these parades roll around, you would be most welcome to join us!