01/19/2015 03:48 EST | Updated 03/21/2015 05:59 EDT

Richard Stewart, Coquitlam mayor, points to gaps in mental health services

Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart is calling for more support for people in their 20s with mental illness.

One of Stewart's four children, Vanessa, was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and mood disorders three years ago.

"Trying to find those appropriate connections for those appropriate treatments for a 23-year-old, it shouldn't be that hard," he told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Stewart said even with a supportive family and his political connections, it has been difficult to get Vanessa the support she needs.

"Families are meant to advocate for their loved one and I think almost every family that would be connected with a loved one like this would advocate and would struggle and would run into the same road blocks that we ran into," he said.

"We also ran into so many of the patients that she was in hospital with who had alienated their families, who had destroyed those relationships — partly because of the illness, perhaps."

'Pressing gaps' throughout mental health system

Stewart wants to see the province invest in more beds to help people with mental illness from all walks of life.

"There's a broad spectrum of illness here and I would love to see us really focus as a community on making sure people really don't fall through these cracks and end up on the Downtown Eastside," he said.

He also wants to see services available in communities throughout the province, including his city.

"One of the services we're having to access is right in downtown [Vancouver], and we live in Coquitlam, so accessing a mental health service three times a week downtown for a young lady who has anxiety — this is a real challenge."

The City of Coquitlam has put forward a proposal for a Coquitlam Health Campus on the Riverview Lands that would include, a psychiatric hospital and research facilities to better understand mental illness.

Silence and stigma surround mental illness

For both Richard and Vanessa Stewart, the first step to getting more services is fighting the silence and stigma that come with mental illness.

Stewart said 18 months ago, Vanessa made the decision to go public with her struggles.

"She made the decision — without talking to us, really — the stigma, the secrecy around it needed to end," Stewart told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Stewart said he was approached by a reporter while at the Canadian Mental Health Association's Ride Don't Hide bike ride, and Vanessa spoke up about the real reason he was taking part.

After that, Stewart said he's been flooded by people who are also dealing with mental illness.

"I've heard from hundreds of people since Vanessa went public. People that I know, people that I don't know, reporters, CEOs — that have said 'that's me, that's my daughter, that's my child, that's our family and we've never talked about it.'"

To hear the full interview with Richard Stewart, click the audio labelled: Richard Stewart speaks out on stigma around mental illness.