I was 16 years old when my dad, who lived with depression, died by suicide. His unexpected death profoundly impacted my family. Isolated by stigma, I struggled in silence for years, internalizing my grief and never speaking about my dad or his death.
Nearly twenty years later, I discovered my local NAMI—NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh—and it changed my life. For the first time since my father’s death, I found myself surrounded by compassionate, understanding people whose stories weren’t so different from mine. I felt amazed that people spoke freely about mental illness and suicide, willing to share painful personal memories to help others.
That was a tipping point for me. My family story had weighed on my heart for years, waiting to be told. I realized the perfect opportunity to share my story was right in front of me.
NAMIWalks as a Platform
NAMIWalks is a 5K walk program designed for storytelling and fundraising. Its goals are simple and two-fold: we share our stories to eliminate stigma, and we raise funds to support the work of local NAMI affiliates.
When I was finally ready to tell my story, NAMIWalks made it easy for me. Using the NAMIWalks website as my platform, I wrote a brief story, added a photo of my dad and (holding my breath) posted it on Facebook. The feedback was tremendous. Many old classmates, former coworkers and new friends expressed their shock and support:
- All this time… I didn’t know.
- The courage to share gives others a voice. Continue on.
- Thank you for sharing your story. It always shows you cannot judge a book by its cover.
- Thankful that you found NAMI.
- All of us who experience suicide never really get over it, but NAMI teaches us to learn to live in spite of it.
That year, I personally raised over $1,500 to support NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania—with a single message shared on Facebook, illustrating the power of one voice, one story.
Since then, I have continued to participate and fundraise for NAMIWalks Southwestern Pennsylvania. But now, I have the privilege of working with NAMIWalks throughout the United States in my role as Fund Development and Events Manager at NAMI. In my travels, the people I meet and the stories I hear—some of which will be shared on the NAMI Blog in upcoming weeks—inspire and heal me every single day.
15 Years of NAMIWalks
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the NAMIWalks program, which has grown steadily since its inception in 2002, collectively raising over $111 million dollars for NAMI organizations and affiliates across the country. Most importantly, it has changed the way we talk about mental illness.
With over 60,000 walkers annually, including more than 6,000 walk teams and 3,000 businesses, organizations and schools, NAMIWalks is at the forefront of the NAMI movement. Our walks are often a person’s first introduction to NAMI—as a walker invited by a friend, a local business recruited as a sponsor or a family member asked to donate—and is often how we find our most passionate mental health advocates.
The NAMIWalks program was created for everyone. You don’t need to be a fitness enthusiast or a well-versed advocate. You don’t need to pay a registration fee or be a star fundraiser. You don’t need to have a diagnosis or a personal connection to mental illness. And even if you do have a story, you don’t need to share it.
But one day, like me, I hope that you do.
NAMIWalks are happening across the country in honor of Mental Health Month.
Find an upcoming walk and get involved today.
Darcey Mamone is manager of fund development and events at NAMI.