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NAMI Oklahoma hosts walk to raise funds and awareness for mental illness

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Guests participate in last year’s NAMIWalks Oklahoma event. | Photo provided
  • Guests participate in last year’s NAMIWalks Oklahoma event. | Photo provided

The Oklahoma chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hosts its 13th annual walk to raise funds and awareness for mental illness June 4 at Myriad Botanical Gardens, 301 W. Reno Ave. Check-in begins at 9 a.m., and the walk starts at 10:30 a.m.

“The goal of NAMIWalks Oklahoma is twofold,” said Michelle Gregory, NAMI Oklahoma development director. “The first is to raise funds so we can continue offering free programs, and the second is to decrease the stigma that surrounds mental illness.”

NAMI Oklahoma, a grassroots nonprofit founded in 1985, offers free advocacy, support groups, educational programs and other resources in order to help improve the quality of life of people affected by mental illness.

In 2014, NAMI Oklahoma received 29,981 help line calls for resources and referrals and 4,000 inquiries through family support groups, Gregory said.

“Mental illness doesn’t know any boundaries,” Gregory said. “It affects the wealthy, the poor, male, female, young, old, educated and not educated.”

This year’s family walk chairwoman is Cathy Costello, whose son Christian is diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia.

In August, Christian experienced paranoid schizophrenic psychosis and fatally stabbed his father, Oklahoma State Labor Commissioner Mark Costello, at a local Braum’s restaurant.

About 600,000 Oklahomans report having a mental illness, and Oklahoma ranks in the bottom 10 states for access to mental health care, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Last year, NAMIWalks raised $90,000, and this year, organizers hope to raise $100,000.

About one-third of the funds raised are from sponsorships, and the other two-thirds come from participant fundraising efforts.

NAMI Oklahoma plans to use the funds to increase veteran programming and gear more programs toward youth and young adults.

“One of the big problems is that people with mental illness are very stigmatized, and so they tend not to seek the treatment and the resources that they need,” Gregory said. “If you can catch an illness earlier, get them the education and treatment that they need, then they are more likely to live a successful life and stay within their treatment.”

As the largest mental health walk in the state, NAMIWalks Oklahoma has about 500 registered participants and hopes register 1,000 by the June 4 event.

Registration for the 5K or one-mile walk is free, and participants are encouraged to fundraise with friends and family.

With recent state budget cuts, NAMI Oklahoma has noticed an increase in calls to its help line from police officers working with the state’s collaborative Crisis Intervention Team, Gregory said.

Between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahoma adults are in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Gregory recommended talking about mental illness in a respectful way as a means of advocating for people diagnosed with mental illness.

“Talk about it as ‘This is my Aunt Cheryl, and she has a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and she goes to this doctor, and she’s living successfully,’” Gregory said. “Don’t reference people as ‘crazy.’ This is a true medical illness and should be given the same respect as someone who has cancer.”

To register and for more information, visit namiwalks.org.

Print headline: Healthy steps, The annual NAMIWalks Oklahoma event raises funds to help residents in need.

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