NAMI
National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMIWalks: Hope for Recovery

NAMIWalks: Hope for RecoveryAs budget cuts continue to threaten mental health services across the country, NAMI’s education, advocacy and support services are needed more than ever. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the 2010 spring NAMIWalks, five kilometer (5k) walks held across the nation to raise awareness that our country needs a world-class treatment and recovery system for all people living with mental illness.

The economic recession has taken a toll on both people with existing mental health conditions and those who may be experiencing the onset of illnesses like anxiety or depression for the first time. Unfortunately, too often people cannot access the services they desperately need.

“NAMIWalks across the country are about hope, recovery and community,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, NAMI executive director. “They are fun events, but they support serious work.”

Changing Minds

This year, NAMI is proud to partner with BringChange2Mind.org, a not-for-profit organization created by actress Glenn Close, the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF), Fountain House and Garen and Shari Staglin of IMHRO (International Mental Health Research Organization). Close, whose sister and nephew live with mental illness, created BringChange2Mind.org to combat the stigma associated with mental illness by providing information and support to people who live with mental illness and their loved ones.

Close was familiar with NAMI’s work in local communities through the help it had given her own family members. She joined the NAMIWalk in Maine last May along with 15 BringChange2Mind.org NAMIWalks teams who have participated in 36 NAMIWalks across the country.

Walking Coast-to-coast and Beyond

In all, hundreds of thousands of people participated in 44 NAMIWalks this spring, some of them inaugural events. Pat Pavone, whose son lives with mental illness, organized the first-ever NAMI Sacramento Walk, which attracted more than 700 walkers and with the help of 60 walk captains, raised more than $80,000.

“The county budget is in dire shape and many mental health services are being stripped,” said Pavone. “I think many people came because the NAMIWalk was a venue to show solidarity and support for the mental health community during this difficult time.”

The economic mood may be bleak, but not so the atmosphere at the Walk, Pavone says. “Mental illness can be a sad, serious business, but this is one day when you can just smile, laugh and walk in celebration. It’s very moving. You’re walking with people and you know all the pain that they feel…that they’ve either walked in my shoes or walked in my son’s shoes.”

On the east coast, NAMI supporters in New York City walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to raise awareness about mental illness in May. Wendy Brennan, executive director of NAMI New York City Metro, spoke with Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS Evening News medical correspondent, about the importance of family support, the challenges of stigma and the hope for recovery from mental illness.

NAMIWalks support even extended overseas, where an Army platoon in Iraq ran five kilometers in full body armor to raise awareness about posttraumatic stress disorder, synchronizing their event with the April NAMI San Diego NAMIWalk. To date, NAMI Massachusetts has held the biggest 2010 NAMIWalk with 360,000 supporters, followed by NAMI New York City Metro with 354,000 supporters and NAMI San Francisco Bay Area with 325,000 supporters.

Despite the economic downturn and its effect on many families, Walks participants raised a remarkable $4.2 million—a 17 percent increase over the 2009 spring Walks revenue.

“Awareness is as big a part of this as fundraising,” said Darlene Cronin, national NAMIWalks manager. “People living with mental illness show up and they don’t feel alone. They feel the support of family and friends and the community. Our Walks are unique in that there’s no registration fee; people don’t have to walk— they can just show up and enjoy the event.”

There will be 40 more NAMIWalks in the fall, starting in September. Visit www.nami.org/walks to find a NAMIWalk near you.

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