By BRYAN HELLIOS
Wakefield – Gogebic Community Mental Health Authority aimed to “stomp out stigma” during its eighth annual Walk a Mile in My Shoes event at Wakefield VFW Wednesday.
Missy Lane, the chairperson for community mental health’s anti-stigma committee, said the purpose of the event is to provide education and bring awareness to the community.
“We want everybody to be treated equal,” she said.
The actual walk is more “symbolic” and Lane said not everyone chooses to go.
“It’s not around the lake like a lot of people think,” she said.
During the walk, banners were hoisted and ladies from Greenbush Assisted Living sported colorful tutus. Local high school students helped serve lunch when the walk was completed.
Guest speaker Jackson Sturkol said he experienced numerous obstacles growing up with autism and had difficulty with day-to-day tasks such as handwriting and tying his shoes.
Sturkol admits he may not have been the easiest child to raise. He thanks his parents for taking the time and effort to help him “smash through the barriers.”
“They gave me the skills and knowledge that will help me through the rest of my lifetime,” he said.
At 22, Sturkol is searching for a potential career and said he wants to move out of his parents house in the next few years.
Sturkol said there is a lot of stigma against people with disabilities and mental illnesses. He feels the negative perception towards people’s differences needs to change.
“Some people like saying the ‘R-word’ all the time,” he said. “I don’t really believe that’s an appropriate term to use because that denigrates against people like us.”
Sturkol said events like Wednesday’s walk are “awesome” because they raise awareness about mental illnesses.
He said he can’t describe the word of thanks he has for Lane.
“I believe Missy put together a wonderful event here,” he said.
Sturkol said he believes eduction is the key to stopping the stigma.
“If people are willing to take the time to learn more about this,” he said. “I believe us as a society will be better in the long run.”
Tim Kangas, CEO of NorthCare Network, said breaking through the stigma requires people to be exposed and educated concerning the differences between people.
“It’s beautiful that the community comes out to support this,” he said.
Kangas acknowledged that more support is needed to help people who work “tirelessly” with individuals and families with disabilities.
He said the system doesn’t always work and he takes responsibility for that.
“That’s why I took this job,” Kangas said, “because I care and I know we can do better.”