Naked Bungy Jump helps bounce mental illness stigma

Campus News
Photo provided by B.C. Schizophrenia Society
Photo provided by B.C. Schizophrenia Society

On Feb. 20 and 21, Victorians young and old will strip naked and free fall 150 feet toward the Nanaimo River, all in the name of shattering mental illness stigmas.

Emma Devynck, a fourth-year UVic student and first time jumper, isn’t sure how to feel about the impending stunt.

“I’m quite nervous but I’m trying to not think about it,” she says. “But really I’m just excited. This is crazy and I love doing crazy shiznit! And it’s a great cause.”

Her sentiments are sure to be echoed by most participants in the B.C. Schizophrenia Society’s tenth annual Naked Bungy Jump.

For a decade, jumpers have cast off clothes and faced down fears to support the Victoria branch of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society (BCSS-V) and all those who battle mental illness in a culture that may not understand their struggle.

As a practicum student with the BCSS-V, Devynck has seen first-hand the unique resources the society provides to Victorians who suffer from mental illnesses like, but not limited to, schizophrenia.

“[BCSS-V takes] a very recovery oriented approach,” she says. “There’s a big emphasis on the individual, and on helping the individual with their particular journey.”

She lists the BCSS-V’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) as an innovative program that reflects this philosophy. Peer-support programs like WRAP are meant to empower those affected by mental illness by working with them to craft a plan for their own recoveries.

However, the ability of the BCSS-V to deliver services to the mentally ill and their families is hindered by the social stigmas that surround their conditions. According to a Canadian Medical Association study from 2008, 42 per cent of Canadians are unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness.

This discomfort with the topic, says Devynck, prevents individuals from seeking the professional help they require and can only be combatted with a willingness to speak openly about our own mental health.

“That’s very important — to be honest about how your day is going, and not to put up more and more protective barriers. That’s pretty much what stigma is.”

So, on Feb. 20 and 21, openness will be embraced and norms cast aside at Nanaimo’s WildPlay Element Park.

Those wishing to leave their comfort zone are encouraged to act quickly, as participation for this year’s Naked Bungy Jump has been capped at 160. A nude plunge can be purchased on the day of the event for $65, or pre-booked for $55 at wildplay.com/nakedbungyjump.

Prospective participants are also welcome to gather pledge donations for the BCSS-V, which will be matched by an anonymous donor. $200 in donations earns one free naked jump.

And finally, a free shuttle departing from the UVic Bookstore is available on Feb. 21 for anyone participating or spectating. Email admin.bcss@shaw.ca for more info.