(HELENA) Despite some rain, hundreds of people came together in Helena Sunday afternoon to help break the stigma surrounding mental illness.
NAMI Montana, the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, held its 15th annual NAMIWalk. Leaders say the event has grown every year.
“It shows the level of how many people in Montana care about mental illness, how many people in Montana care about providing the best services and the best care,” said Matt Kuntz, NAMI Montana’s executive director.
The walk began in Memorial Park. Participants then walked through Centennial Park and around the Carroll College campus.
Kaitlin Thennis has been taking part in the NAMIWalk for more than a decade. She said she’s seen a big change over that time.
“When I was in high school, struggling with mental health myself, there really wasn’t anything – no place I could really turn to get the help I need,” she said. “But it has grown so much in the years since this walk has started, and with more awareness comes more acceptance.”
Thennis thanked the local businesses and organizations that supported the walk.
“It’s just an amazing thing to do, to walk to help mental illness,” she said.
Another walker was Cammy Heck, Miss Montana’s Outstanding Teen for 2018. She said she has seen mental illness affect her family, her hometown of Sidney and the entire state. So, she decided to spend her year as Outstanding Teen encouraging people to “Talk About It.”
“I definitely think we need to realize that mental illness is real,” Heck said. “It’s a disease and it’s not something you can snap out of or shake off, and it’s something that needs attention. It’s not something you should silence or be ashamed of.”
NAMI Montana estimates one in five families in the state have been affected by mental illness. The annual walk not only raises awareness of the issue – it also raises revenue to continue the organization’s support services.
“NAMI Montana and our local NAMI affiliates just can’t function and thrive without the NAMI Walk and our generous supporters,” Kuntz said.
Those who took part in the walk say they want to give a clear message to people facing mental health challenges.
“You are not alone: Wherever you are in your life, someone will be there to help,” said Thennis.
You can find more information about NAMI Montana’s mental health resources on their website.