NAMIWalks: an active display of support

by Hayden Smith
Staff Writer

Mental Health Month is in May, and no one knows mental health risks like our LGBTQ community. One in five Americans will experience mental illness at some point in their life, but LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely to live with a mental health condition.

While modern culture is edging its way towards acceptance, LGBTQ people still live in a society that was not built for them. Making a space for ourselves in a still largely homophobic and transphobic world puts unbelievable stress onto our community, resulting in an increase of anxiety disorders, substance abuse, major depression and even self-harm and suicide.

For LGBTQ people ages 10-24, suicide is the leading cause of death. Our younger generation has an even harder time accessing safe spaces within the greater LGBTQ community, mental health services or even supportive friends and family.

With such dire odds, it is imperative to the community that each member takes their mental health seriously, whether that be through diligent self-care, therapy through a licensed counselor or accessing support programs and resources for mentally ill people.

In the last case, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, is an essential resource for mental health needs.

NAMI is a non-profit organization providing often state affiliated support programs for mentally ill people and their families nationwide with trained and experienced volunteers. Their programs include support groups, educational courses and advocacy for the rights of mentally ill people.

The organization also recognizes the specific and significant issues faced by the LGBTQ community in the field of mental health and wellness. They offer direct support through their locations as well as recommendations to other safe spaces with allied providers.

For allies and members of both the LGBTQ community and the mentally ill community, an engaging opportunity to provide tangible support is on the horizon. NAMI is holding its yearly fundraiser walks across the country throughout this spring to late fall, with several in The Gayly’s area falling right in Mental Health Month.

Their walks are both a primary source of funding and a campaign in raising awareness and ending stigma.

“Last year, the walks raised over $10 million to support programs and initiatives that improve the lives of persons affected by mental illness,” Loren Lewis, a member of Oklahoma’s NAMI chapter estimates. “NAMIWalks Oklahoma is in its 14th year and typically raises around $90,000 for education, support and advocacy programs in the state of Oklahoma.”

While the main purpose of the walks is to support the greater organization’s efforts, the events themselves often provide their own service to mentally ill people.

“The walk brings awareness and helps to break down the stigma associated with mental illness,” says Lewis. “When stigma is replaced with understanding, those living with mental illness are more apt to receive the help and understanding they need.”

Stigma is a major issue for both mentally ill and LGBTQ communities. Some LGBTQ people are afraid to disclose their orientation in mental health facilities, while some are afraid to disclose their mental health status to fellow LGBTQ people. NAMI provides public, unashamed support for both communities.

Walkers join either as individuals or as a team to independently raise donations for the walk. Participants earning $100 or more receive a free t-shirt from NAMI, while individual locations may offer more prizes for higher fundraising levels.

The walk is also a family-friendly fundraiser. For Oklahoma City, Lewis says there will be plenty of events for walkers of all ages to enjoy on the day of the walk.

“There is a DJ, face painting, glitter tattoos, various resource tables, therapy dogs, pre-walk Zumba and a free open air photo booth available.”

Oklahoma’s walk is anticipated to draw in over 1,200 people, while NAMI is expecting over 50,000 people in 80 locations nationwide.

Walks in The Gayly’s region will take place in Topeka, Kan., on May 13, North Little Rock, Ark., on May 27 and in Oklahoma City, Okla., on June third.

Participants can register online at or by contacting the host of their location’s event listed on the same website.

Copyright 2017 The Gayly - 5/7/2017 @ 2:51 a.m. CDT