Following Mental Health Awareness Day on Oct. 10, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Athens, or NAMI Athens, reinforces the importance of this idea with its Walk the Walk for Mental Health Awareness on Saturday, Oct. 16.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the walk, which according to Adrienne Nagy, board president of NAMI Athens, began around 1999. The idea behind the walk is to raise awareness around mental illness and the families affected by it.
The first few walks started at Hocking College and ended at the Appalachian Behavioral Health Care Hospital, or ABH. Over the years, the walk has changed. Nagy said that since no one could see the people on the walk, it frustrated her.
“I want to get visibility for our cause,” Nagy said. “(The) theme was walk the walk, and that's exactly what we wanted people to see, we will walk the walk.”
The event will begin with a rally at the courthouse at 11 a.m. with Nagy saying a few words about the man who began the walk.
“I will mention Pete Wuscher’s name because he's the one that started this, it was his brainchild,” Nagy said.
Wuscher coordinated the first walk as a 12-mile trek back in 1999 while working with The Gathering Place. Cate Matisi, a psychiatrist, said she didn’t think she was able to make the first walk but attended the second walk and has financially supported it ever since.
“There’s certainly much more participation in NAMI,” Matisi said. “I can’t remember when NAMI began to increase awareness. Certainly, with their participation, it's become much better known.”
“The Athens community is exceptional,” Matisi said. “I'm also on the board of Women's Recovery House that we started three and a half years ago, and the support that we've seen is just amazing, from all the different organizations.”
Those participating will receive a free t-shirt and mask to wear on the walk. The group will then walk together to the hospital and gather around 2 p.m. at Pepsi Tailgreat Park for a snack.
“I think it's also an opportunity for people in the community to see where psychiatric patients are living and experience being in that building,” Tina Trimmer, the administrative consultant for NAMI, said. “In the past, they had brought down people who live at the hospital to have lunch and get t-shirts and stuff. So sometimes our folks would be able to interact with some of the folks that are staying at the psychiatric hospital and I think representation is important.”
Nagy said that she has continued her work with NAMI for 20 years because of her son, Peter Nagy, who was being treated at ABH for schizophrenia.
“Everything I do for NAMI, basically, I do in memory of my son,” Nagy said. “And to help other people who have suffered and who are suffering because he's suffered terribly from this illness.”
The original walk followed a path maintained by NAMI, leading to a pond at the Ridges. The pond is named the Peter Nagy Memorial Pond for Nagy’s son who died at 23 years old.
“It's not a fundraiser, this walk; it is purely to bring awareness of mental illness,” Nagy said. “And to show that those of us that are walking there that do not have mental illness, we’re there to support those that do.”
Trimmer said NAMI tries to support local organizations that are doing similar work, such as Suicide Prevention, The Gathering Place, ABH, Hopewell Health Center and the Athens Photo Project.