Ventura walk to support mental health services

STAR FILE PHOTO Walkers make their way down the Ventura Beach Promenade during the ninth annual NAMI Walk in 2013. The event, which takes place April 30 this year, is put on by the Ventura County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to raise support and awareness of mental illness.

By Alicia Doyle, Special to The Star

The goal is $175,000.

That’s how much organizers of the NAMI Walk hope to raise on April 30 to help people in Ventura County affected by mental illness.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the largest grass-roots organization in the United States that advocates for services for people who have mental illness, as well as their family members, said David Deutsch, executive director.

“We are important in the Ventura County community because we offer education, support and advocacy to raise awareness of how common mental illness is,” said Deutsch, of Fillmore.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in every five adults in America experiences a mental illness, and nearly one in 25 adults in America lives with a serious mental illness.

“This can range from mild to moderate to severe … from mild depression to severe schizophrenia,” Deutsch said.

He added that post-traumatic stress disorder is also more common than previously thought.

“People tend to associate PTSD with people coming back from the military service, but it does happen to many other people, as well,” he said.

NAMI Ventura County supports those affected by neurological disorders, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, severe anxiety and co-occurring brain disorders and addictions.

The walk is about raising awareness of NAMI’s local services while reducing the stigma often attached to those suffering from mental illness, Deutsch said.

“We are very involved in advocacy in this county,” he said. “We are at the policy table to advocate for services. And we seek to maximize the quality of service for people across the entire spectrum of mental illness.”

Karyn Bates first discovered NAMI in the late 1990s, a few years after she became a member of the behavioral health advisory board for Ventura County. She’d had experience with bipolar disorder.

“I experienced mental health challenges and had been in many institutions,” said Bates, of Ventura. “My family members needed some idea of how to better support me. So with the principles that NAMI shared, my family was able to understand better what I was going through, and I learned I’m not the only one.”

All services provided by NAMI Ventura County are free of charge, said Roberta Rodriguez, a NAMI board member and manager of the April 30 walk.

Funds raised through the event will help NAMI provide such services as family support groups, peer-to-peer recovery programs and training courses for mental health professionals. NAMI also offers programming in Spanish, including education for families.

“We also want to raise more awareness of NAMI in Ventura County,” said Rodriguez, of Ventura. “NAMI Ventura County has been around 30-plus years, and a lot of people are not aware of the services we provide.”

This year’s walk is expected to attract more than 1,000 participants and will start at the Ventura Beach Promenade at 9 a.m.

“We’re making it a family fun day,” Rodriguez said.

Highlights include musical entertainment, resource tables, a live DJ, belly dancer training and face painting. There will also be an “art walk” section in which paintings, sculptures, pottery and other artwork created by NAMI clients during their recovery will be showcased.

“Clients that go to the walk will see all the people we work with — counselors, doctors — dressed in beachwear, coming together for a common cause,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like Woodstock, only it’s Beachstock, and we’re all in this together. It erases all the boundaries and allows us to be one.”