NAMIWalks helps lift stigmas against mental illness 

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Nearly a quarter of Oklahomans deal with some form of mental illness. The state ranks third highest in the nation with 22.4 percent of the population dealing with some form of mental illness, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. But even with a problem so common, it’s still hard to talk about, said Trisha Chapman, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Oklahoma, Inc. marketing and development director.

“The stigma of mental illness is still a very significant issue,” she said. “It’s hard to see the individual. Instead, they only see the illness.”

The group’s annual event, NAMIWalks, aims to put a face to mental illness and help lift the stigma. NAMIWalks Oklahoma 2017 is 8 a.m. June 3 at Myriad Botanical Gardens, 301 W. Reno Ave. The walk itself is a 5K around the gardens, but Chapman said it serves a larger purpose.

“This is our largest community event each year, and it helps us raise awareness of mental illness in Oklahoma,” she said.

It’s also its largest fundraiser. It helps the nonprofit pay for advocacy, education and support. NAMIWalks is a family-friendly event with a children’s area with face painting, crafts and games; a DJ leading a Zumba class before the walk; and education-related booths.

“We want people to know that mental illness is treatable. We need to see it as any other medical condition,” Chapman said. “I think a large part of the problem is that our society is scared of talking about it. That’s a barrier to treatment.”

If people are afraid to come forward and talk about their issues, they won’t seek help, she said. And if they aren’t comfortable talking about mental illness with others, how can people support them in recovery?

“It’s all about being open,” Chapman said. “Younger generations get it and they understand the need to address it.”

NAMI supports people with a wide range of diagnoses, including eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, anxiety and depression, among others. Even the people who have the conditions need to know more about them, Chapman said.

“We’ve become more open to talking about depression, but there are still people who think, ‘I should be able to snap out of it,’” she said. “They need a support system. That’s where places like NAMI come in.”

NAMI Oklahoma offers programs designed to help individuals and families and presentations that bring understanding to new audiences across different age groups. NAMI Homefront is a free educational program for friends and family of military service veterans with mental health conditions. Peer-to-Peer is a 10-week course in which people can find support from others who have experience living with mental illness.

That’s why NAMIWalks is so important, Chapman said. This year, the group hopes to raise $90,000 or more. That funding helps support programs in rural areas as well as cities.

“Mental illness is pervasive, and we need to get people proper treatment no matter where they are,” she said.

There’s no registration fee, and the walk is open to the public, but NAMI Oklahoma does ask that walkers help raise donations for the organization.

Visit namioklahoma.org.

Print headline: Lifting stigmas, NAMIWalks raises awareness and funds to treat mental illness across the state.

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