May is Mental Health Month, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) always does its NAMI Walk during this month. For NAMI Colorado, it will be this Saturday, May 22. Here, with NAMI High Country Colorado (HCC), Team Troy is doing ours on Saturday morning, bright and early at 7 a.m. at Hayden Meadows. If you want to join us, wear a mask to start and walk with us.
I am a long-time member of NAMI, having served as a volunteer, interim director of NAMI Nashville and founding board member of NAMI HCC. As a person with a mental illness, I found a home in NAMI — all of our educational and support programs are peer-led and free to anyone who needs them. During this pandemic time, they have been virtual.
I especially appreciate the walk, as exercise — and being outside — is good for my mental health. Additionally, it’s a way to speak out and honor others. This is the second year I’ve had the privilege to walk for a son of friends who committed suicide. Last year, I walked for the veteran son of old college friends whose wedding I attended. I had known Joel from the time he was a little boy and celebrated his birth. This year, I walk for other friends who lost their teenage son before I ever got to know him. Both are devastating losses to their families, and NAMI Walks is a way to honor all of them. It’s also a way to beat stigma as we put our bodies into our walks.
In other locations, there are non-denominational church services to acknowledge Mental Health Month, with folks with mental illness participating with songs they wrote or art they created or with dance. Governors and mayors often proclaim the month and walk before the legislature or city council. In some states, legislators display art in their offices made by constituents with mental illness.
For some folks, this walk or month is the first time they’ve admitted to the public that they or their family is touched by mental illness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health symptoms as well as instigated symptoms in our neighbors who’ve never had them. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide or mental illness — talk doesn’t make either happen, and often is a way to find help for ourselves and our loved ones.
This month and this Saturday, please remember your Colorado and Lake County neighbors who suffer silently and let them know you’re a listening ear.