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Raising awareness one step at a time

POSTED April 20, 2012 5:38 p.m.

As we head full-steam into Relay for Life season, it’s hard to miss the purple ribbons strung on lampposts down Main Street and the car wash, barbecue, and candy fundraisers Relay teams all across town are holding almost every other day.

Every time I come across these Relay events I am reminded of the millions of people who battle cancer every day — and those who passed away due to the disease, leaving grieving family and friends.

The fact that over 120 cancer survivors participated in Hilmar’s first-ever Relay for Life event last weekend was a stark reminder of how cancer drastically affects even the smallest of communities.

I applaud the efforts of all those who are raising money and walking for the American Cancer Society as part of Relay for Life events.

On April 28 I will be participating in a fundraising walk — not for cancer research, but for an organization that helps those dealing with a disease that continues to have a stigma in society even though one in four adults (approximately 57.7 million Americans) experience this disorder in a given year.

I’m talking about mental illness. Just like cancer, mental illness can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. But unlike most people battling cancer, those diagnosed with a mental illness tend to hide it or delay seeking treatment due to a fear of being ostracized by family members, coworkers and friends.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an advocate for those dealing with mental illness, and their families. The national organization, which has a Stanislaus County office in Modesto and offers ongoing services in Turlock, provides free training, support groups and awareness campaigns.

I will be participating in the Northern California NAMI Walk in Sacramento on April 28, not only in an effort to raise funds for NAMI but also to show my support for those dealing with mental illness. This organization is close to my heart, as it has helped my family innumerable ways to better understand mental illness and ways to cope with having a family member diagnosed with a mental illness.

NAMI staff and group facilitators have been there. They know not only the medical reasons for behavior, but also understand the emotional and physical toll dealing with mental illness can have on the whole family. They are a beacon of hope for many who see only continued isolation, shame and despair.

It is my hope that not too far in the future communities all around the state and country will take up the cause of mental illness, and blue and gold ribbons (NAMI Walks’ official colors) will be seen on every sign post down every Main Street. Only when the stigmatism is gone will the funding for research and services be at the level that is needed.

When I began my fundraising efforts for this year’s NAMI Walk, I contacted friends, coworkers and other community groups asking for support. What I found were generous hearts and open minds to learning more about mental illness and NAMI.

Turlock Firefighters Local #2434 not only made a donation to support local NAMI services, they also made arrangements for training on mental illness. This willingness to learn more about a disease —  that has one in 17 people dealing with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, and one in 10 children living with a serious mental or emotional disorder — speaks volumes to me about the firefighters’ professionalism and desire to serve the entire community.

If you would like to donate to my NAMI Walk team and help support local services for those dealing with mental illness and their families, visit www.nami.org/namiwalks12/SAC/khacker.

This column is the opinion of Kristina Hacker and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. 

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