Gulf Bend organizes its first awareness walk
April 20, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.
Updated April 21, 2017 at 6 a.m.
Mental illness doesn't need to be discussed in a whisper.
That's the message the local mental healthy authority wants to get across with its first awareness walk in Riverside Park.
"It's a community conversation that needs to happen," said walk organizer Jessica Dodds, of the Gulf Bend Center.
The Shine the Light on Mental Health and Suicide Walk is scheduled for May 6.
May is known as Mental Health Month, which has been observed since 1949.
Participants can turn in a registration form beforehand at Gulf Bend Center or register 30 minutes before the free walk. There will be a resource fair, food trucks, bounce houses and live music by Legal Limit Band.
Gulf Bend is still accepting exhibitors for the resource fair.
Dodds said the event is open to everybody, and the walk is a little over a mile.
Lane Johnson, chief of clinical services, said this walk could help people understand more about mental illnesses and seek treatment earlier.
Nearly 1 in 5 American adults have a mental illness, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The alliance reports that about 21 percent of youth between the ages of 13 and 18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
"I just think that the more we talk about mental health issues, the less of a stigma it becomes," he said. "It needs to be an everyday discussion and not something that's whispered in the shadows."
Johnson has worked at Gulf Bend for the past 20 years and said he's seen a gradual improvement in how people think of mental illness.
He said people seem more willing to talk about living with conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Executive Director Jeff Tunnel said the walk is a different yet positive approach to addressing these kinds of public health issues.
Gulf Bend started planning a mental health awareness walk last year.
Since then, several area youth have died by suicide.
Organizers decided to change the event's name in an effort to raise awareness in the community specifically of suicide prevention.
Johnson said he hopes those affected by the recent losses will find comfort and support should they choose to attend the event.