Steps Against Stigma Walk: Changing How Americans View Mental Illness

By Nami Nagaoka

The Steps Against Stigma Walk was hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at the Wick Park Recreation Center on Saturday to bring the community together and create awareness of mental illness.

According to NAMI, more than 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 24, making it common among college-aged individuals.

The event included a dog show, team photos, a Steps Against Stigma Walk and lunch for guests.

Hope Haney, the director of NAMI, has worked with severely mentally ill individuals for 30 years through an agency in the community.

“This [event] is a different way for me to help and to provide something besides therapy,” she said. “This is the way I can provide something to people that is useful to them.”

Haney said NAMI doesn’t provide therapy or treatment.

“We do support them. We do education classes. We do a lot of classes for families,” she said.

The money raised at this event will be used for providing support, advocacy and education to the people and families of the Mahoning Valley affected by mental illness.

A T-shirt design competition was also held during the event. Each group designed their own T-shirts and took a picture as a group.

“The group goes out and gets contributions and we have a competition,” Haney said. “If you raise a $100 [and bring it to NAMI], you will get a silver shirt. If you raise a $250, then you’ll get a gold shirt.”

Haney said NAMI has a lot of events for the people and family affected by mental illness such as a picnic and Christmas party.

“I love my job,” she said. “I like the contact I have with the people, and a lot of the people who are seriously mentally ill living in the community can’t live on their own.”

Jenny Falvey, the owner of Dogsmartz Unleashed in Poland, gave a dog performance on Saturday with her members.

Three dogs performed with Dogsmartz Unleashed members, accompanied by a smiling and applauding audience. Falvey said it is always great to see what the dogs can do.

“It’s great for kids to show in their light,” Falvey said. “It’s a great thing to see so many people support this.”

Mark Zidian owns Windhaven House, which is an adult care facility where most residents have a diagnosed mental illness. He said Windhaven House is designed to bridge the gap between independent living and nursing home facilities.

“[NAMI’s event] brings attention to the community that people of all different types can suffer from mental illness,” Zidian said. “This helps educate people to break up the stigma.”

Zidian attended the event with his family and the residences of Windhaven House.

“Animals can help because they are calming and soothing to most people. It helps them relax,” he said.

YSU NAMI, an organization at Youngstown State University, participated in this event as a volunteer team.

Tara Baker, the president of YSU NAMI, said she got to know about this event from one of her members and decided to volunteer.

“It brings the community together, so, people who don’t know about it can know about [mental illness] through this event,” Baker said.