'Stomp Out Stigma' 5K walk advocates mental health awareness

By Ty Konell | 5/7/17 9:44pm

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GVL - Courtesy of Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan Stomp out Stigma walk


Statistically, 20 percent of people in America struggle with mental illness, and most mental health problems begin to present themselves in people around the age of 14.

To aid in raising mental health awareness and advocacy, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan will be hosting its 2017 "Stomp Out Stigma" 5K walk Saturday, May 20, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Grand Valley State University's L. William Seidman Center, located in downtown Grand Rapids across from GVSU's Pew Campus.

“We are expecting to reach about 1,800 walkers this year,” said Michelle Tanis, program expansion coordinator for the Mental Health Foundation. “This is a great way for people to come out and support and learn more about what is going on in their communities surrounding mental health education and suicide prevention programs.”

The Mental Health Foundation is an organization rooted in community outreach.

"We're the go-to resource for mental health education and awareness," said Christy Buck, executive director of the foundation. "There's a number of ways that we go out and do things in the community."

For executives at the Mental Health Foundation, the walk is an event that has the potential to create a community, as well as to raise awareness.

“To me, this event is an opportunity to get people together for the one main purpose of raising more awareness and stomp out the stigma surrounding mental health,” Tanis said. “We have lost far too many people already to mental illness, and we need to stand up and step up to the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.”

Tanis said she believed that a walk to end the stigma around mental illness would encourage those who struggle to seek help.

“We know that one in five Americans suffers from mental illness, with stigma being the number one reason for people to not seek treatment,” Tanis said. “We want to break down those barriers, and a community walk is a perfect way to do that.”

Moreover, Buck thinks some social issues stem from untreated mental illnesses.

"All these big social concerns like suicide, murder and going to jail are seriously so rooted to mental health," Buck said. "Looking at adults and where their mental illness began, it traces back to traumatic childhood experiences that have brought actions out in the adult."

While the Mental Health Foundation does education work for students of all ages, executives had a few ideas about mental health advocacy, specifically at GVSU.

"At GVSU, a great way to raise awareness is as simple as reminding people that resources are available, letting people know about the suicide prevention hotline and that there are people they can talk to," Buck said.

For Buck, whose mother struggled with depression, empowering those with mental illness to seek help before they take their own lives is an important part of her life.

"Mental illness is so common, and suicide is the most preventable death," she said. "If we gain awareness and give people tools and empowerment, it can save lives. That's what I know, and that's why I'm so passionate about it.”

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