What a 5K for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and National Mental Health Awareness week can teach us all about healthy minds

By Christopher Cudworth

Trees

Families and friends walked and ran in honor of those who face mental health challenges.

For the last six or seven years it has been a joy to rise on an early October morning to support a local race in Batavia, Illinois called the NAMI 5k. The race raises money each year for a local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Originally the race was called the BatRun, a race title I convinced them to change. I just didn’t think the term “bat” or “bats” went well with the serious issue of mental illness. The organizers meant well, trying to relate to the Halloween season and all, but my point was in trying to place the focus on something more important than frightening fun.

For years I’ve pedaled out to the one-mile marker to read times. It is a race after all, and usually the winner breaks 18:00 or so.

But the bulk of runners and walkers cares less about time than participation. The race this year raised $10,000 for the local NAMI chapter. That’s important funding for an organization that provides mental health guidance and resources to individuals and families impacted by people with mental illness.

That’s a wide range of the human population. This fact sheet outlines the scope of people impacted by mental illness in America alone.

bridge

Participants walk the bridge across the Fox River to the start of the event, which is all about creating a bridge to people with mental health challenges.

One in four people in America experiences mental illness in a given year. Too many don’t want to admit their challenges. They might see it as a sign of weakness or disability. That keeps people from reaching out for help, leaving them to suffer alone.

13% of youth face mental illness issues that legitimately require treatment. Society too often writes these serious issues off as “kids being kids” or “moody teenagers.”

In fact most mental illnesses are a direct product of chemical imbalances in the brain. Some forms of mental illness are not only chronic, they are debilitating. It is estimated that the cost of lost earnings due to mental illness reach $193B per year.

So one would think that there would be more fund raising to address these issues. Certainly the various channels of cancer fund raising are admirable and worthwhile, but perhaps the idea of raising pink funds for “the girls” and breast cancer is a bit more alluring than raising money for darkness of the soul.

Nuts

Having mental health issues does not make you “nuts.”

Yet it’s possible and people do get the idea that mental illness is a serious issue once they engage with the issue. With one in four people experiencing difficult challenges in mental health every year, it is obvious we are all in contact with people with depression, anxiety and other disorders of the brain that produce dramatic or unseen costs.

So much about mental illness is a question of context. While roaming the race grounds taking pictures the song Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen came pouring through the speakers. In context of the NAMI 5K the lyrics took on a whole different meaning…

The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive 
Everybody’s out on the run tonight 
But there’s no place left to hide 
Together Wendy we can live with the sadness 
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul 
H-Oh, Someday girl I don’t know when 
We’re gonna get to that place 
Where we really wanna go 
And we’ll walk in the sun 
But till then tramps like us 
Baby we were born to run 

Anyone that has felt genuine depression and anxiety knows that there is a fine balance between determination to survive and complete ambivalence at the same time. If that fine line slips there is even the intent of suicide that can creep in. Mental illness can take away the will to carry on or even survive.

Mental health issues can flare due to seasonal, dietary or stress factors.

Mental health issues can flare due to seasonal, dietary or stress factors.

The degrees of mental illness put individuals at other risks if their condition removes social constructs or rationality. When people lose their ability to reason their behavior can even run afoul of the law. One of the important NAMI initiatives is working with law enforcement to provide education about how to identify and handle people experiencing profound mental health episodes.

So it was heartening to see families walking in honor of their loved ones or friends with mental health. Some wore placards on their back stating “I’m walking for my mom” or other friends and family.

It was cold. And it was windy. Yet there were breaks in the forest where the winds abated and people ran or walked along without being buffeted by the brisk October weather. It was perfectly symbolic of the entire journey through a life impacted by mental illness. There are calms and there are storms. There are dark moments and also trees bright with color and hope.

People of all ages need to be assessed for good mental health.

People of all ages need to be assessed for good mental health.

Because it is also true that people with mental illness often experience life at a more intense level than some of the rest of us. Certainly the challenge of working with someone gifted with savant capabilities yet nicked by the inability to recognize social cues is becoming more of a mainstream issue. Conditions such as Asperger’s and autism are now discussed with more frequency. Schools have struggled with whether to be inclusive or exclusive in these efforts. But at least there is a social movement to recognize the value of better engagement.

It’s National Mental Health Awareness Week October 5-11th, 2014. Take some time to visit the NAMI website to educate yourself on mental health issues and learn where you can find resources for people you know or yourself. There are many healthy ways to gain better mental health.

Even our pets need to be watched for good mental health. They can also provide a healthy support mechanism for all of us.

Even our pets need to be watched for good mental health. They can also provide a healthy support mechanism for all of us.

I know. I’ve worked through a lifelong engagement with anxiety. The effects have been profound and impactful at times. My running and riding are healthy ways to deal with anxiety and the flipside of depression that can go with it. Through all the frightening challenges of caregiving for my late wife when she had cancer, it was important to get both chemical treatment and counseling to better deal with life events that can accentuate one’s propensity for compromised mental health.

It’s not just something you will or pray away, although cognitive and spiritual attentiveness can help. Good mental health is primarily awareness of your condition and finding ways to not just cope, but thrive in your own context.

It’s very possible, but if you or someone you know is struggling with personality or mental health disorders it is so important to seek help. Don’t be afraid. You are far from alone, and that’s the point. We’re all in this together.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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One Response to What a 5K for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and National Mental Health Awareness week can teach us all about healthy minds

  1. Craig Virgin says:

    Chris: Thanks for the lyrics to Bruce’s “Born to Run”…. never knew all the words/lyrics….it was my theme song and I played it several times in 1975 at my PSU hotel room before going out and winning the NCAA X-C Champs that November. Thunder Road, too! I still have both the 8-track tape and 8-track player somewhere….. I learned a lot about mental illness…..and the failed USA medical/societal approach to combat it back in 1997-2000 when I had to study it after recovering from my high speed head-on car collision with a mentally ill women… who was off her meds… and was not supervised properly by either her family or her medical care givers…. and had had earlier episodes with irrational vehicle driving that had not elicited the proper response from both those two groups. Instead, I was the victim…. although it could be said that she was, too! When we closed down most of the “asylums” and tried to “main stream” most people with mental illness in this country… millions of them could not function in our society….and ended up getting “treated” in prison rather than in the institutions that used to house them. There is plenty of story there to go on for days…

    Hope you are recovering well from your bike crash.

    Craig Craig Virgin csvirgin@aol.com craig@craigvirgin.com

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