NAMI walk raises awareness for mental illness locally, nationally


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Almost every participant donned at least some piece of blue for the National Alliance on Mental Illness walk this past weekend.

On April 27, members from around the Johnson County area came to show their support for people who usually stand alone — mental-illness patients.

“I’ve never talked to anyone who isn’t affected by it,” said walker Jenny Read, a North Liberty resident. “My son has a mental illness. I like the purpose of the [National Alliance on Mental Illness]. It’s a cause that really needs some support.”

One in four adults have a mental illness.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, kicked off the event by speaking about his personal experience, living with a mother who has a mental illness. He said he would work tirelessly with lawmakers to continue making strides in providing help for mental-illness patients.

“That’s why I’m here, to do what I can, to have people talk about [mental illness],” Loebsack told The Daily Iowan. “We have a highly constricted fiscal environment, and we want to put the measures upfront and be practical and provide access to mental-health facilities. We need to maintain the level of funding [to help mental-illness patients], and I will do my best to take those measures.”

The walk has occurred nationally for 13 years, and the Johnson County walk celebrated its ninth year this past weekend. Roughly 900 participants were involved, raising around $110,000. Any donations given in the next 60 days will go toward the walk proceeds.

All four of the Iowa City high schools participated in the walk. One City High junior said there is especially a stigma with mental illness in a high-school setting.

“I think that a lot of high-school students don’t take it seriously enough,” Anna Mondanaro said. “Or they’ll say they have a mental illness when really, they’re just having a bad day.”

Vicki Walters, the education coordinator with the Greater Mississippi Valley Chapter of the mental-illness alliance, credits the organization for helping save her life as well as her family.

“I took the family-to-family class because my Mom’s bipolar,” she said. “I didn’t know what was wrong with Mom, but she was just undiagnosed. I can’t say enough about [the alliance] — it saved my family, and it starts in the family.”

Della McGrath, the walk manager for the past seven years, was looking for a consulting job and came across the mental-illness alliance. She quickly took the cause to heart and is now lobbying for Iowa to earn an “A” in providing mental-health services.

“[The] national organization did a report card of each state [providing mental-health care],” she said. “In 2006, do you know what we received? An F. In 2009, we got a D. We have a long way to go.”

She said although Iowa may have more improvements to make, the Iowa City area is better with its understanding of mental-health patients because of the large hospital presence in the city.

“We’re probably better than most places,” she said. “It could be because we have a lot of people working in the field. Both Mercy and UIHC have teams here today, which is probably more than most places.”

Amanda Shocklee, a University of Iowa research assistant in psychiatry, agrees with McGrath’s sentiments and says most everyone in the health profession understands and is open to helping mental-illness patients.

“I work in the mental-health field and support everyone with mental illness,” said Shocklee, a North Liberty resident. “I think it’s more of a society thing, but that’s why events like this are important [to help people’s understanding].”

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