The last few years have been hard on our mental health. According to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families, rates of youth suicide and attempted suicide increased by more than 600% between 2013 and 2021. In June, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Thurston-Mason chapter  – known as NAMI Thurston/Mason – is taking steps to help raise awareness for mental illness in all ages at their first annual NAMIWalks at Shelton High School.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a national, nonprofit grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for those affected by mental illness. NAMI Thurston/Mason promotes awareness of mental health and reduces stigma, raises funds for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s free, top-rated mental health programs, builds community and lets people know they are not alone.

“NAMIWalks is to promote awareness of mental health and to reduce stigma,” shares Marilyn Roberts, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Thurston/Mason.NAMI is an organization of dedicated volunteers that bring its free evidence-based programs to anyone in the community.

large group of people walking on a roadside
National Alliance on Mental Illness Thurston-Mason chapter – known as NAMI Thurston/Mason – is hosting NAMIWalks on June 1, 2024 in Shelton. Photo courtesy: NAMI Thurston/Mason

Shelton High School Chosen for NAMIWalks

The 2024 NAMIWALKs for the NAMI Thurston/Mason chapter is going to be on Saturday, June 1, 2024. Registration and check-in will start at 8 a.m. and is 2 miles long. The route will go from the Shelton High School field to Mason General Hospital and back. Everyone in the family is welcome to come – all ages and abilities. Even the pet is welcome to come out and show those battling with mental illness that they are not alone.

“Choosing Shelton High School for our first walk was easy,” shares Roberts. “First and foremost, Shelton is known for its ability to create change and shed light on an issue like stigma.  And, it is a community that knows how to get things done.  The school and walking path are a perfect backdrop for this awareness event and we are excited to partner with Shelton Schools and the walk pathway partners.”

Monies raised will be used to fund local National Alliance on Mental Illness Thurston/Mason programs, including support groups; classes; presentations; community outreach activities; volunteer appreciation; and new youth and young adult programming. They recently opened a new office in Shelton, and monies will also help support their two offices – the other one is located in Lacey.

You can register or sponsor an existing team by visiting the NAMIWalks webpage. There is no fee to register. Any registered participant who raises $100 or more will receive a NAMIWALKS 2024 event t-shirt.

“NAMI works to fight the stigma of mental illness, and to raise awareness of the need for improvements in the mental health system,” shares Roberts. “I walk because I hope to support a future in which people in our communities, individuals like my son who lives with bipolar disorder, will have an easier path to walk.”

two people hugging at a NAMIWalks event
It’s important to let those dealing with mental health that we are here for them, we support them, and we love them. That’s what NAMIWalks is all about. Photo courtesy: NAMI Thurston/Mason

NAMI Thurston/Mason Programs

The National Alliance on Mental Health Thurston/Mason has an incredible breadth of programs for youth and adults. All of their programs are free to our community and have a huge impact locally. One of their youth programs, called Ending the Silence, is a presentation that they give at local schools showing the warning signs of mental health conditions and what to do if you witness them in yourself or someone else. The presentation includes different talks with the students, staff and parents.

After an “Ending the Silence” presentation at a local high school, one youth shared: “I appreciated how the speakers gave us opportunities to engage in the discussion, asking questions and overall just interacting with us. I also liked how the presenters shared their experiences with us. I don’t know about everyone else, but that made me feel like I wasn’t weird for having mental health problems myself.”

Another program, NAMI Family to Family, is an 8-session education program for people who know others battling with mental illness, whether they are family, significant others or friends. It includes presentations, discussions and interactive exercises from a trained professional.

A participant in the Family to Family program shared: “This class has been an important part of my personal healing after experiencing a serious mental health event with my loved one. I have been able to use the information I’ve gained to make sense of the experience and I now have the knowledge and tools to support my loved one on their path toward recovery and living with their condition. I feel more grounded and empowered and less afraid”

Volunteers and donations keep the important work they are doing going. You can learn more about their programs, become a volunteer or donate on the NAMI Thurston/Mason website. Don’t forget to register for the June NAMIWalks event. The event has no ending, Roberts shares, because each step is a new beginning for the people they serve. “We raise funds to power NAMI’s life-changing free programs and fuel growing awareness of our cause,” she adds. All it takes is one step to start a new beginning.

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