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A walk in the cold for mental health awareness

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Families, friend groups and individuals gathered under the pavilion at Broad Ripple Park on Oct. 19 ready to try to make a difference when it comes to talking about and dealing with mental illness.

The second annual NAMI Walks event, organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Indianapolis, connected advocates and those with lived experiences. Along with sharing ideas and encouragement, the event brought in at least $33,500 to help the organization provide programs and support groups.

Shannon Hooks, who was at her first walk, heard about it from a coworker and wanted to attend because she’s been affected by depression and anxiety. While she couldn’t say this event would have been helpful for her when she was struggling, Hooks, 39, said it’s at least beneficial for people to be part of something that reminds them the issue is bigger than any individual.

“It forms a community, and it allows you to realize that you’re not alone,” she said.

The mood shifted often, especially as speakers took to the stage before the walk to share their stories about struggles with mental illness, which included suicide ideation and almost losing loved ones. Still, there was plenty of laughter and messages of hope.

Advocates and those with lived experiences say one of the issues when it comes to talking about mental health is a stigma that makes it seem like a taboo subject. In turn, that can create the illusion that fewer people struggle with mental illness.

That stigma can look a little different and be more pronounced in the African American community.

Grace Moore, a junior at Lawrence Central High School, is part of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, which advises Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett on issues that impact youth, and said they’ve been researching and talking with peers about mental health.

So far, they’ve found that for minority communities such as African Americans, religion is a factor for why some don’t take their mental health as seriously, or makes them think the solutions to those issues are in the church. That’s consistent with other research and anecdotal evidence.

“We’re just trying to get the message out that you aren’t weak if you have a mental illness and that it’s OK to get help if you need it,” Moore said.

The fallout is that large swaths of a community may not know how to talk about or treat a mental illness.

Beatrice Beverly, president of the local NAMI board of directors, said her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia about three years ago when he was 25. It was a late diagnosis, she said, and resources within the African American community were lacking.

“There is a stigma attached to mental health, mental illness,” Beverly said of the African American community. “Just having that conversation where it’s open and transparent, you couldn’t find very many people who wanted to have that conversation.”

When it comes to addressing that gap, Beverly said it’s a matter of education and raising awareness. She offered a vision for how that might work after the walk.

“They’ll say, ‘Hey, I came to this walk, and they had resources and support programs that they offer. Let me give you their number,’” she said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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