A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and on Saturday, April 14, the Mu Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority raised mental health awareness by organizing a 2-mile charity walk for the cause.
The event, “NAMI Walks” for the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), was free for the public and held at the campus track.
“A lot of people think that mental illness is just like ups and downs and heartbreaks and emotional effects, but mental illness is also eating disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, and it’s more popular in our generation today,” said Alexis Ross, the president of AKA MU and a senior elementary education major from Lanett.
Ross said the event was held to bring understanding and awareness so that it doesn’t feel like people are judging others affected by mental illness.
There was a photo booth set up in the middle of the walk with a board that read, “I am walking for … ” where people could fill out who or what illness inspired them to participate.
“It wasn’t something where you just had to walk those two miles straight; we just wanted you to enjoy what you were doing and be happy for the cause,” Ross said.
AKA MU chose to donate all proceeds to NAMI because it was one of the best-known and largest organizations dedicated to mental illness.
“There is a lot of mental illness that goes around that people simply ignore,” said Amber Thomas, a senior biomedical sciences major and a member of the sorority from Mobile. “I feel like by us doing that walk, it brings awareness to the campus in something that isn’t shown around campus that much.”
“The main purpose of the event was to bring awareness to something that people are afraid to talk about,” said Jordyn Saulsberry, a junior exercise pre-health major from Gainesville, Florida, and the organizer for the health promotion event for the AKA. “You always see different diseases like cancer as something common, but mental health illness is a disease that isn’t brought into light like other diseases.”
Saulsberry said they expected the participation of around 50 people, and that is how many came.
“Because it was Greek Week, we couldn’t post about the event until the last two days. I honestly expected just the people in our chapter to show up,” Ross said. “It was our first time throwing such a big event and everybody was just so impressed, and we realized we can do more to bring awareness regarding this matter.
“I feel like this event was just a start not only for our organization, but every organization, and it was something to enlighten others to know what our purpose is and how we can help one another.”
When asked about what else an individual can do in order to help eliminate the present mental health stigma, almost everyone had the same answer: “Be more understanding.”
“Be nicer to people,” Saulsberry said. “Don’t judge someone right off the bat, and if you see someone being alone by themselves, being picked on or anything like that, just make sure to make them feel included.”
If someone is struggling with symptoms of a mental illness, Thomas encouraged students not to ignore them.
“Don’t ignore the signs,” Thomas said. “Don’t ignore the symptoms and brush it off thinking you are having a bad day.
“Just go see a doctor and get checked out if something happens.”
Ross said people should try to be more understanding of those with mental illness.
“Don’t judge a person just based on how they behave in that moment,” Ross said. “When you deal with mental health illness, don’t just ask a person how that works. You can do research on the matter on your own and just be there for there for them mentally, emotionally and financially.”