'Stomp Out the Stigma' NAMI walk draws hundreds for mental health awareness in Ohio

(WSYX/WTTE)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) - It was fitting to hold a walk in Wolfe Park on Saturday, to work toward ending the stigma about mental illness. After all, to beat mental illness, you take it one step at a time.

Russell Lenahan took too many steps alone.

"He had a very severe mental illness: paranoid schizophrenia," explained his mother, Sandy Lenahan. "And sometimes, because of the stigma (surrounding mental health treatment), they think they'll use the old 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps.'"

It did not work for Russell, who suffered for years until taking his own life at age 23. Sandy now suffers with that loss every day.

"I wasn't able to save my son from his issues," she laments.

Instead, she now draws attention to illnesses of the mind. She did that Saturday by walking in the National Alliance on Mental Illness Franklin County event. The goal of the walk was to raise money for, and bring awareness to, the need for mental health treatment for those who might avoid it.

More than 800 people walked and $85,000 was raised before the event even began Saturday, with totals projected to far exceed that amount.

NAMI Franklin County's program coordinator, Laurita Barber, also suffers from mental illness and had suicidal tendencies beginning at age 8. Now, she is seven years removed from her most recent suicide attempt, and is working to help others understand they must reach out to help the mentally ill.

"If you have a friend or loved one who doesn't seem to be acting quite themselves — maybe they're withdrawn, maybe they're not answering phone calls or enjoying life the way they used to be — that's when they need us the most," Barber explained.

Saturday's walk ended with a concert in Wolfe Park and included a T-shirt and banner art contest.

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