WAKEFIELD – Over 100 peo- ple gathered at the Wakefield VFW post 9084 for the 9th annual Walk a Mile in My Shoes event organized by Community Mental Health.
“The Walk a Mile event is held for behavioral health and (intellectual and developmental disabilities – I/DD) advocates to educate the public and legislators about mental health and raise awareness of the harmful effects stigma associated with mental illness and I/DD has, and for everyone to accept individuals for who they are,” CMH officials said in a press release.

The event is usually held in May, but event organizers were unable to hold it at that time because of COVID-19 restrictions, according to Angel Robles, corporate compliance liaison at CMH. The theme of this year’s event included rainbows to show support for the LGBTQ+ community and bumblebees to represent the Be Kind Movement, which encourages people to be kind to others. Many participants wore bee antenna head-bands and wings, even tutus. Other’s wore the event T-shirt
which featured a rainbow and the bumble bee.
The event is a smaller version of the CMH Association of Michigan’s annual event, which will be held in Lans-
ing on Sept. 29 and attracts close to 2,500 people annually, event organizers said in a press release.

Organizers said that they hold their own rally here because it is such a long-distance to travel to Lansing. This years event includ ed speeches by Philip Hefner Gardiepy, a nationally recognized trainer of mental health first aid, and Bob Sheehan, chief executive officer of CMHAM.
“Negative feelings and stigma are always associated with individuals who live with these issues and the community needs to
work together to stop the negative feelings and the stigma as they are what keeps people from asking and getting the help and
support that they need,” CMH officials said.
Gardiepy spoke against using mental illnesses as an adjective to describe someone. Gardiepy said, there are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness. He said that by using adjectives to describe someone with a mental illness it enforces the misconception and fuels the stigma.

According to Gardiepy a lack of education and awareness also fuels the misunderstanding of people with mental illness.

“Just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses are not adjectives,” said Gardiepy. “It’s like saying you have pneumonia. It’s a
huge exaggeration and adjectives just go into the false stereotypes about mental illness.”
According to Gardiepy the community should stress that people are more than a mental illness and that they are loved and valued as a person.

CMH organizers said that the best thing for community members to do in order to stomp out the stigma is to use respectful language, emphasize a person’s abilities rather than their disabilities or limitations, not label or judge people by their illness or disability, encourage full community inclusion, speak up when others are using unkind words or bullying, treating everyone with dignity and respect and be kind to everyone.
“This movement is a
civil rights movement,” said Sheehan. “This movement is to say that all of us have a right to dignity and respect. The right to vote,
o work, to fall in love and to live where we want as a way of life.”
Sheehan also spoke of two bills in the senate that are aimed at breaking up the mental health system.
He said that, if passed, they would harm every CMH office in the state of Michigan. He encouraged particpants to write their senators and speak up against the bills.
Following the program, they held a short ceremonial walk from the VFW to the information center in Wakefield and back. After
the walk participants were treated to a light lunch including cookies and hot dogs.

Community walks for mental health awareness