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Published: Sunday, 10/2/2005

Walk set to raise funds for affliction


Breast cancer has its annual fund-raiser walk; so do leukemia, diabetes, and a host of other diseases.

But mental illness has struggled to get the attention and exposure other diseases do, despite the large number of Americans with mental illness.

"One in five families has someone with mental illness, and it's the cause of the largest loss of disability in the United States," said Marci Colton Dvorak, executive director of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Greater Toledo.

"What's so frustrating is we're sort of the last disorder where the stigma of getting treatment is worse than the disorder for many people."

She and other mental-health advocates hope the first ever fund-raising walk in northwest Ohio in support of those with mental illness brings more attention and money to the issue. The 1 1/2-mile walk is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, starting at the Erie Street Market near downtown Toledo.

More than 400 people are expected to walk. They hope to raise $50,000 to support the local NAMI chapter.

"We want people to be aware of mental illness and destigmatize the term mental illness. We hope to bring people out in support of family members and friends who live with mental illness," said Mary Jo Swartzberg, co-chairman of the NAMI walk.

Mental illness disorders include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic and other severe anxiety disorders, autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and other severe and persistent mental illnesses.

Ms. Colton Dvorak said that it has been frustrating for mental-health advocates to watch diseases such as breast cancer get so much media attention and public exposure when mental illness is more common in the United States.

"So the walk - we want people to stand up and create walking teams, and walk in honor of someone struggling [with mental illness] right now. We just want people to come out and say, 'Look, I'm not going to be embarrassed.'‚óŹ"

Each team can have 5 to 10 people, she said. Teams that bring in $100 or more will get free T-shirts.

For more information about the walk, call NAMI at 419-243-1119.

Contact Luke Shockman at: lshockman@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.

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