Walk takes steps to raise mental health awareness
Dawn Mehra, president of NAMI Far North, helps as part of a sign train at the grassroots organization's NAMI Walk on Saturday. The event is designed to raise awareness and support for those with a mental health illness or their families.
(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)
A participant makes his feelings known as he takes part in NAMI Far North's NAMI Walk on Saturday. The event is designed to raise awareness and support for those with a mental health illness or their families.
A participant makes her feelings known as she takes part in NAMI Far North's NAMI Walk on Saturday. The event is designed to raise awareness and support for those with a mental health illness or their families.
A participant holds a sign as she takes part in NAMI Far North's NAMI Walk on Saturday. The event is designed to raise awareness and support for those with a mental health illness or their families.
Staff Writer | October 11, 2023 1:00 AM
SANDPOINT — The sun was shining and music playing. Soon, a steady stream of people began walking down the Sandpoint-Dover Community Trail.
A focus on mental health awareness and support — and a chance to raise money for NAMI Far North, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
More than 100 people turned out for the event, a two-mile, out-and-back walk designed to call attention to mental health and the resources available through the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The national grassroots organization was started by three women in 1979, gathered around a kitchen table. Each had a family member with a chronic mental illness, Mehra said.
"They wanted to make everyone's life better, including theirs," she told those gathered for the walk.
From that trio gathered around the table, sharing stories and dreaming of something better, NAMI has become the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization, offering education, resources, communication, and peer-led support groups. In the 40-some years since its founding, NAMI has thousands of affiliates across the country.
"What is so special about NAMI is that everyone who leads a support group has the past experience of something [that is] mental health-related in their life," Mehra said. "They're not counselors. Participants actually have a peer-led experience, and that's a really different flavor."
Because NAMI's focus is on awareness and support, events such as the NAMI Walk are crucial both in promoting mental health awareness and decreasing the stigma sometimes associated with mental health illnesses.
"What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversations," Mehra said, quoting actress Glenn Close. "It's really simple."
Linda Heisel began making prayer flags several years ago because she enjoys them. It wasn't long before friends asked her to make them for them as well. Soon, people were asking to buy them.
Heisel said she didn't want them, adding that would turn it into a chore instead of something fun.
"I didn't really want to keep the money, but I like making the flags," she said.
After talking with a friend who was president of NAMI at the time, Heisel decided to donate any proceeds she made to the mental health organization. She knows people who have faced mental health illnesses and knew the funds would go to a good cause.
"It feels good to help. I like to know that I'm doing something," she added. "It doesn't seem like a lot, but I also enjoy making the flags. I also think the flags spread peace and joy."
That message of joy and understanding, she said, matches what NAMI tries to accomplish.
Among those taking part in the walk was Kerri Kuntz, part of a seven-member team from Sandpoint Hot Yoga. The studio decided to take part in the walk as a way to show their support for NAMI and the community.
Kuntz said that yoga, while sometimes promoted as simply a physical activity, is more about being healthy, connected, and supporting each other. Those ideals can also be seen in NAMI's work, she said.
It didn't take long after forming the team and beginning its fundraising efforts for the team to raise more than $3,000 for NAMI Far North, the local chapter of the grassroots organization.
Roughly one in five adults in America faces mental illness, and nearly one in 25 lives with severe conditions. As a result, mental health conditions touch most lives, whether people realize it or not, Mehra and NAMI Far North board member Catherine Perusse said.
While stigma and discrimination present hurdles, knowledge can dismantle these obstacles.
"Understanding the intricate biology of our complex brain, one of the least-understood organs, empowers us to offer compassion, inspire hope, and facilitate recovery," Mehra said previously.
NAMI Far North offers support, resources, and advocacy to individuals and families facing mental health conditions, officials said.
It is also important for those with mental health conditions and their families and friends to know they are not alone, the pair said. There is help, there is advocacy, and there is support.
Support groups are available both in-person and online. The groups are free of judgment, and everything is confidential. Information about local resources and education are both available, as is support for all, Mehra said.
Information: NAMI Far North, namifarnorth.org or 208-597-2047