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Walk for mental health awareness

The National Alliance for Mental Illness Finger Lakes (NAMI-FLNY) will host a walk in Cass Park on May 6 to help end the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Cass Park sign with Cayuga Waterfront Trail map
Cass Park sign and map of Cayuga Waterfront Trail (Photo by Ainsley Shelley/Ithaca Week)

“It’s just all about meeting people that need to know they’re not alone and providing resources and supporting them. … It just really feels like a good thing that everybody needs access to,” Sandra Sorensen, NAMI-FLNY executive director, said.

Sorensen became the executive director in September 2022 after taking a year and a half off of work following the death of her husband, Michael, who died by suicide in 2021.

“My husband was very secretive of his mental illness, so I wasn’t really allowed to talk about it with people,” Sorensen said.

Bob Chiang, a board member and volunteer, explained that after seeking support for a family member with mental illness, he found that it was helpful to talk to people experiencing the same difficulties as him.

“Looking around for resources to help myself to educate myself and provide better care and then also for support, emotional support, for myself, I found the NAMI organization,” Chiang said.

NAMI-FLNY provides support, education and advocacy not only for those with mental illnesses but also for their caregivers. NAMI-FLNY has a library of books that help to support and educate caregivers, located at 171 East State Street, Suite 275.

“I think there’s a lot of resources that people that are struggling with mental illness can tap into if they wanted to, but there’s not very much of this for caregivers of people that have mental illness,” Sorensen said.

Chiang explained that the walk will help publicize and recognize the existence of mental illness as well as reduce the stigma associated with them.

“[Mental illness is] a part of the human experience and it’s just as common or natural as other chronic illnesses,” Chiang said.

The one-mile walk will take place in Cass Park, near the Ithaca Children’s Garden. In-person registration will begin at 11 a.m. and the walk is from 2 p.m. through the park. Participants can also register and donate beforehand on the NAMIWALKS FLNY website.

Image of a willow tree and pathway at the Cass Park Cayuga Waterfront Trail
The Cayuga Waterfront Trail at Cass Park (Source: Ainsley Shelley/Ithaca Week)

“There’s gonna be walk stations along the way where people can stop and interact with other mental health agencies that are fun,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen said Ithaca Be Kind, Ithaca Free Hugs and two support animal groups will be there, in addition to several of NAMI FLNY’s partner agencies who will have tables to give out resources.

The Ithaca Crisis Team through the Ithaca Police Department will also be in attendance to help answer questions surrounding what to do during a mental health crisis.

“A lot of times when people are experiencing mental health crisis, they’re afraid to call crisis services or the authorities, and developing those relationships with people and giving the opportunity to ask questions about what that looks like is really helpful,” Sorensen said.

There will be prizes for the three individuals that raise the most donations. NAMI is offering a gift certificate to Rasa Spa for a massage or a facial, a one-month membership to Island Health and Fitness or a sheepskin car seat cover.

“All of the programs that we offer through NAMI Finger Lakes are free, so nobody has to pay anything to take our classes or participate in our support groups,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen said 100% of the funds raised from the NAMI walk go into operating costs.

“I had never heard of [NAMI] until I needed it,” Chiang said. “It would be so much more valuable if everybody had a lot of this information before either experiencing mental illness or helping care for someone with mental illness,” Chiang said.

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  • H

    Harold A MaioMay 3, 2023 at 9:27 pm

    If you begin a walk believing there is a stigma to mental illnesses, you will carry that belief with you throughout the walk and long after.

    It is not a prejudice you can walk off.

    If you organize a walk believing there is a stigma to mental illnesses, you will carry that belief with you throughout the walk and long after.

    It is not a prejudice you can walk off.

    If you publicize a walk believing there is a stigma to mental illnesses, you will carry that belief with you long after.

    It is not a prejudice you can walk off.

    Harold A Maio