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Join the Walk for Mental Health Awareness Houston.
By Marene Gustin

Need treatment for mental illness? Go to jail. According to a Texas Observer article published last year, the Harris County Jail handles an average of 9,000 inmates, a quarter of whom are on medications for mental illness. That means our local jail treats more psychiatric patients than all of the state’s mental hospitals combined.

Raising Awareness: Last year’s Walk for Mental Health Awareness Houston raised over $16,000 for area agencies. This year’s walk will be held on October 10.
Raising Awareness: Last year’s Walk for Mental Health Awareness Houston raised over $16,000 for area agencies. This year’s walk will be held on October 10.

Mental illness is a very real problem in the Houston area—not just for inmates, but also for veterans, the elderly, and pretty much every other demographic. But the Walk for Mental Health Awareness Houston is trying to change that through education, awareness, and funding for Harris County nonprofit agencies and programs that provide mental-health services. The fifth annual 5K walk and expo will be held this October 10.

Last year the event raised $16,848 for area agencies. This year, founder Patrick McIlvain hopes the 500 expected participants can raise $25,000 for the cause. “We call it a walk with a purpose,” McIlvain says. “It’s a three-day event. We’ll have a little outdoor reception Thursday at sunset at the City Hall reflecting pool, when the building will be lit in lime-green lights—lime being the color of the mental-health awareness ribbon.”

On Friday, October 9, the organization hosts a luncheon at Ripley House. Passing Forward is a public dialogue on mental health issues, and this year’s guest speaker is Elizabeth McIngvale, daughter of Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, who will share her story of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Diagnosed as a young girl, McIngvale would wash her hands up to 100 times a day, and things only got worse from there. Although her parents were told her condition was untreatable at one point, she was eventually able to manage her disease through cognitive behavioral therapy. Today she has a doctorate in social work and is the founder of Peace of Mind Foundation (peaceofmind.com), which helps improve the quality of life of OCD sufferers and caregivers through education, research, support, and advocacy. The foundation created and fully subsidizes the OCD Challenge, an online self-help website for individuals suffering from OCD.

The Saturday fundraising walk starts at Stude Park at 8 a.m. The entry fee is $25 if you register online before the walk, or $30 if you register at the park on the morning of the event. “It’s a very family-friendly event,” says McIlvain. “We encourage families to bring the children—strollers are allowed, as are dogs. We’ll even have a ‘pup tent’ set up for the dogs.”

The walk even offers nutritional snacks instead of junk food, since good nutrition is an important component in managing mental illness. And instead of a starter pistol, a gong will announce the beginning of the walk. “It’s a soothing sound,” says McIlvain, who himself suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Mayor Annise Parker will also be with us for the start,” he says. “We’ve been very lucky to have the support of her administration for all five years.”

After the walk, there will be an expo with various nonprofits and vendors displaying information. If you or a loved one suffers with mental-health issues, this is a healthy, informative event you won’t want to miss. So lace up those walking shoes and head over to Stude Park—it’s a walk for a worthy cause.

What: Walk for Mental Health Awareness Houston
When: Saturday, October 10
Where: On-site registration and packet pickup opens at 7 a.m. at Stude Park (Studewood St. just north of I-10). Walk starts at 8 a.m., Mental Health Expo at 9:30 a.m.
Details: thehoustonwalk.org

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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