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What It Was Like Taking Part in My First Mental Health Walk

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One Saturday in May this year, I woke up to a cold and rainy morning. My bed was warm and it sounded great to stay home and curl up on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee.

But I had to get moving. This was the day of the NAMIWalks, rain or shine. I’d heard about this fundraiser since I started volunteering almost a year ago, and was excited to finally participate. What a perfect time, as May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country. There are hundreds of NAMI chapters throughout the United States. The 5K walks are the largest fundraisers of the year.

NAMI uses the money to offer free classes and programs to those affected by mental illness, and also to their families. I’ve seen the benefits of their resources firsthand. I’ve attended a Family-to-Family class, and I’m a presenter for NAMI’s Ending the Silence program. I visit high schools and speak to students about the importance of mental health.

My very supportive husband went with me to the walk. When we arrived, it was cool and cloudy but had stopped raining. Hundreds of people gathered near the starting line, decorated with a huge arch of green and blue balloons. There was music and a DJ. The positive energy was infectious.

Dozens of teams wore matching t-shirts and carried signs. One of the largest teams was from a local college, which I thought was awesome. The younger generation is realizing the importance of mental health, and doing something about it.

I felt the camaraderie. We were there to achieve a common goal — to raise awareness and help end the stigma.

My husband and I met some great people and the walk was beautiful. The sun never pushed its way out from behind the clouds, but that didn’t matter. Nothing could dampen the spirits of the walkers.

The stigma remains strong, but it will be broken. Step by step.

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Originally published: August 29, 2017
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