LONG BEACH - May is National Mental Health Month. To foster awareness and support for individuals and families touched by mental health conditions, Pacific County's affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is sponsoring a walk and rally for mental health and wellness this Saturday, May 15. The walk starts at noon and lasts until 2 p.m. at the Bolstad beach approach in Long Beach, according to Kat [Kathryn] Erskine, walk team captain and current president of NAMI Pacific County.

Barbara Bate, co-founder of NAMI Pacific County and current president of NAMI Washington State, reports that mental illnesses or brain disorders are more frequent and produce more loss of economic productivity in the U.S. than cancer or heart disease. These problems in families, schools, or workplaces go untreated because many people think, "I don't dare have people think I'm crazy."

One in four households in Pacific County will be touched by a treatable mental disorder this year, including depression and post traumatic stress disorder, and 70 to 90 percent of those who seek treatment and support get better. Sadly, many don't get the help they need due to stigma, lack of information, or limited financial resources, ending at times in a tragic loss of life through suicide.

The national website for NAMI (www.nami.org) has a long list of conditions within the scope of what are considered to be mental illnesses, noting that "research is constantly providing us with new information about the brain and the nature of mental illnesses and, consequently, more effective treatments."

NAMI's list includes autism spectrum disorders and bipolar disorders, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating or panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and seasonal affective disorder. Current research also addresses the widespread issue of dual diagnosis, where mental illness and substance abuse occur together and need to be treated in an integrated way.

Bate equates today's stigma about mental illness with the hush that used to accompany the mention of cancer. "When I grew up, it wasn't cancer, it was 'The C Word.'" She said the standard fear was, "If you talk about it, you're probably going to get it." But awareness and knowledge about cancers have come a long way, as proven by events like the Relay for Life. In comparison, open discussions about mental illnesses and recovery are less common and leave people isolated from each other. She said, "We have a long way to go."

Leaders like Bate, Erskine, local NAMI members and walkers from the staff of Willapa Behavioral Health hope that Saturday's Wellness Walk and Rally will increase awareness and dialogue among citizens of all ages and raise funds for educational outreach to families, youth and the larger community.

Walkers on Saturday will get a free hotdog and soda or coffee, courtesy of the sponsors of the Surf Perch Derby, being held on the Bolstad beach approach opposite the Wellness Walk tent. Donations to NAMI Pacific County can be made at the walk tent. Those unable to participate May 15 can donate by credit card online during the next 60 days through the national website, (www.nami.org/namiwalks). Click on "WA," then type in "Team Captain Kat Erskine," or call 665-6305 or 665-5372.

More information on mental illnesses and recovery can be found at the National Mental Health Association website (www.nmha.org).

This year's NMHA theme for Mental Health Month is "Live Your Life Well." A special website for this theme is linked from the main site. It provides 10 research-based easy-to-follow tools, showing ways to apply them to everyday living, including relaxation techniques and journaling exercises. There are also tips on getting better sleep and improving eating habits, all of which work together to help families better handle the daily stresses of life.

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