HANFORD — Dozens marched down Lacey Boulevard Thursday afternoon while holding lime green balloons to raise awareness of mental health and in a call to erase the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
A long line of lime green shirts, balloons and ribbons — the color of Mental Health Awareness Month — advanced down Lacey Boulevard to the sound of honking cars passing by. The marchers held signs with slogans like “You are not alone” and “#EachMindMatters.”
Kings County Behavioral Health recovery support coordinator Monique Hall’s sign read, “Stamp out the stigma.”
“We want to focus on wellness and reduce the stigma around mental illness,” she said. “It’s like any other illness. You go to the doctor if you have the flu and mental illness is no difference.”
KCBH outreach coordinator Anna Lopez said that the stigma surrounding mental illness often leads to individuals in need refusing care.
“People sometimes avoid getting help for mental illnesses, saying ‘I don’t need it. I’m not crazy.’ And we want to spread the message that getting help for mental health does not equal craziness,” she said.
Lopez added that language we may use flippantly, thinking it benign, like calling someone’s actions, “crazy” or calling someone a “psycho” can lead to further stigmatization of mental illnesses.
The walk is organized by the peer run Oak Wellness Center at Kings View Counseling Services, in conjunction with funding from Kings County Behavioral Health and support from Kings Partnership For Prevention, Kings Community Action Organization and the Kings County Sheriff’s Office.
The walk began after volunteer Denise McGhee led the crowd in stretches and aerobic warmups.
After the nearly-mile long walk, the marchers returned to the original spot, Kings View Counseling Services on Bailey Drive, for a raffle giveaways and speeches.
“A diagnosis does not define who we are or what we can become,” volunteer Lydia “Lilly” Garcia said to those in attendance.
Garcia shared her story of living with schizoaffective disorder and how treatment and medication has turned her life around. Once homeless and abusing drugs, she is now sober and plans to attend College of the Sequoias.
“Just because you have mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t do what other people do,” Kings View Behavioral Health Services case manager Geneva Torrez said.
Kings View offers services for the mentally ill, addicts and intellectually-challenged adults.
The walkers were escorted by three members of the Bakersfield chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse, an organization that helps children who have been abused by, among other things, escorting them to court cases to testify against their abusers.
In a pamphlet handed out by the group, the organization’s founder, John Paul “Chief” Lilly, said, “children who feel safe and protected are more likely to tell the truth regarding their abuse.”
May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States since 1949.