By Blair A. Young, NAMI National Walk Manager
Since my first involvement in 1988, nearly everyone I have spoken to in NAMI has described their dream of a time when mental illness can be discussed in public as an important issue worthy of public support and understanding. I began to understand the significance of these dreams and soon started dreaming of the same thing myself.
From the very beginning of the NAMI movement, part of the challenge was always the need to educate the public about serious mental illness—to let people know that mental illness, like diabetes and heart disease is an illness like any other, that it is indiscriminate in nature, that recovery is possible when the appropriate treatment is available, and that NAMI provides hope for individuals with a serious mental illness, for their families and for their communities.
This challenge seemed insurmountable at times. By the beginning of the 21st century, NAMI had built an extensive and powerful national network of advocates and the capacity to begin to initiate the conversations necessary to help people better understand the impact that mental illness has on their community. What was needed was a vehicle that allowed advocates to initiate these conversations on a scale that would begin to make a difference. The NAMIWalk program has provided the perfect opportunity to begin these important conversations.
NAMIWalks marks its 10th anniversary in 2012. Since its beginning, NAMIWalks has grown significantly and has become a “community walk for mental illness awareness” and the perfect way to engage every part of the communities that host these events. As each of these walks continues to grow, the opportunities to educate the public and to change the way people see serious mental illness will grow as well. We are approaching the point when these walks stop being so much about ‘walking for NAMI’ and more about ‘communities walking to raise awareness about mental illness.’ As that happens, some of our long held dreams will begin to come true.