The message was simple and to the point Saturday at the third annual 5K Walk for Mental Illness – mental health is as important as physical health.
The Mental Wellness Campaign of Anoka County-sponsored event took place at Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park.
And with some 150 people taking part, it was by far the largest turnout in the the first three years of the event.
Proceeds from the walk go to public outreach activities of the Mental Wellness Campaign for Anoka County nonprofit organization, which is run by a board of consumers, service providers and community leaders.
Bill Pinsonnault, retired director of Anoka County’s social service and mental health department and one of the founders of the Mental Wellness Campaign for Anoka County, presented a short program in the regional park’s performance pavilion prior to the walk.
According to Pinsonnault, the mental wellness campaign’s goal is to not only eliminate the stigma mental illness, but also ensure that it is treated like any other primary disease.
“For too long, there has been shame, guilt, character defining and social prejudice associated with mental illness,” Pinsonnault said.
It is very important that mental health becomes visible and not a silent killer, he said.
According to Pinsonnault, 85 to 95 percent of individuals who have mental illness are in recovery – it is estimated that one in four people will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.
“Not so long ago, people were afraid to talk about the big ‘C’ – cancer,” Pinsonnault said.
And 20 years ago, no one would use the word “breast” in association with cancer, he said.
Now the Walk for the Cure for breast cancer draws tens of thousands of people each year, Pinsonault said.
The goal is that in a few years, thousands will walk for mental illness, he said.
The Mental Wellness Campaign for Anoka County, in conjunction with Anoka County, has been hosting a series of public forums, Let’s Talk About It Anoka County, where young people have been talking about their experiences with mental health issues, Pinsonnault said.
“They have shown it is cool to talk about it,” he said.
“They are stepping out of the darkness into the light.”
“It’s about hope, recovery, joy and reaching potential.”
Prior to the start of the walk, Tammy Ferguson of Connexus Energy, past president of the Mental Wellness Campaign for Anoka County, led participants in stretching exercises.
And during the walk – the route took participants round Cenaiko Lake – there was musical encouragement from Drumheart, an all-women drum ensemble from the The Women’s Drum Center in St. Paul.
Event sponsors included Allina Foundation, UCare, Connexus Energy, Allegra Printing, Nystrom and Associates, Rev. Richard Townsend-Anderson, Village Bank, Volunteers of America, Rupala Counseling and Family Innovations.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]