Walk makes mental health strides

Yearly Community House event, back in person, aims to support mental wellness

The Community House is holding its 14th annual Walk the Walk for Mental Health on Sunday to raise awareness and financial support for mental health services to individuals and families in DuPage County who do not have equitable access.

Dan Janowick, executive director of The Community House, said the agency's Counseling Center wants to continue chipping away at the stigma surrounding mental health.

"The goal of what we're trying to do is start a community conversation around mental health and facing it in a much better way," he said.

Counseling expenses can be hard to afford for those with fewer resources, so the money generated by walkers and their donors goes to make it more widely available.

"It's helping subsidize the services for those who otherwise wouldn't have access to it," he said.

Participants can walk as individuals but also are encouraged to start a team of their friends, family and coworkers to boost their fundraising reach. They can also post updates with the hashtag #WalkAMile4MentalHealth to help stoke the dialogue.

Jennifer Lawrence, co-chair of Walk the Walk, said the COVID-10 pandemic has impacted society's young people especially hard, with lockdowns and social isolation taking a toll during such formative years.

"It's been a rough year," Lawrence remarked. "It's important to have spots to go to if you're a struggling teen. It can be hard to tell your parents, but there's someone you can talk to. That's huge."

Janowick said out of every 10 clients that visited the counseling center over the last year, seven were younger than 23.

"The pandemic has just magnified and multiplied issues that were already existing," Janowick said.

"Most don't have health insurance," he added.

The Community House Junior Board, which participates in volunteer opportunities with the Willowbrook Corner Youth Learning Program supporting at-risk adolescents, provided the following anonymous reflections, experiences and opinions on mental health and wellness from high schoolers.

"As someone who struggles with several mental health issues, I can tell you that it can truly be an 'invisible illness.' You never know what someone has been through, so be mindful and be kind to everyone you encounter." - sophomore

"COVID has made me feel more alone because I haven't been able to see people." - sophomore

"During COVID, I lost one of my friends to suicide and many of my close friends have struggled with depression." - senior

Lawrence said her family has personally experienced the pain of depression when their then middle school-aged son tried to take his life after being the subject of bullying.

"There were no signs. It was just an impulse based on what he was going though at school," she shared. "It just opened up a conversation that your never thought you'd need to have about your 12-year-old," she said. "It was just mind-blowing. Kids face just so much pressure that it's unbelievable."

The Walk will kick off at The Community House, 415 W. Eighth St. in Hinsdale, and participants will be assigned start times in alignment with social distancing practices.

Janowick wants the event to empower people to step up to the cause.

"We hope people will continue to have open and honest conversations about anxiety and forms of depression," he said. "We also want them to recognize when they need to go seek professional help, which is really important for our young people especially."

The Community House has been providing mental health services for nearly half a century.

Lawrence said she's honored to help with the cause.

"Raising money for this is so important," she said. "There shouldn't be a stigma against asking for help or talking about suicide prevention and mental health."

She said support from friends and others in the community has been heartening.

"The feedback I'm getting is amazing, with people sharing their own stories," she said.

Along with nice warm weather, Lawrence hopes Sunday brings lots of walkers and lots of donations.

"It can help so many people, even if it's not this year but future needs, so we need to just keep growing (the resource base) and growing it," she said.

Participants will receive a commemorative Walk the Walk T-shirt to wear during the event. Registration is open through today for individuals and teams by visiting https://raceroster.com/events/2021/47031/walk-the-walk-2021.

Janowick said walkers can move at their own pace, just as healing can take various forms.

"There are so many different levels on the path toward mental wellness, and that's OK," he said. "We want to normalize the conversation and help people figure out some skills to deal with it, and also make sure those services are equitably available to everyone."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean