I read about Kathleen “Katie” Marie Shoener's struggle with bipolar disorder and her death by suicide just after Halloween last year--her favorite holiday, and the holiday close to which her family chose to host the first 5Kate Mental Illness Awareness Walk/Run run in her honor. This year marks the second such event. Funds raised will go to support the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) among others. I was moved by her story, by her devout family's deep love for her, and by the tagline created for the run: "dress in costume, but don't mask mental illness".
On the walk/run website, her family has these words to share:
So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness. People say that “she is bipolar” or “he is schizophrenic.” Over the coming days as you talk about this, please do not use that phrase. People who have cancer are not cancer, those with diabetes are not diabetes. Katie was not bipolar – she had an illness called bipolar disorder – Katie herself was a beautiful child of God. The way we talk about people and their illnesses affects the people themselves and how we treat the illness. In the case of mental illness there is so much fear, ignorance and hurtful attitudes that the people who suffer from mental illness needlessly suffer further. Our society does not provide the resources that are needed to adequately understand and treat mental illness. In Katie’s case, she had the best medical care available, she always took the cocktail of medicines that she was prescribed and she did her best to be healthy and manage this illness – and yet – that was not enough. Someday a cure will be found, but until then, we need to support and be compassionate to those with mental illness, every bit as much as we support those who suffer from cancer, heart disease or any other illness. Please know that Katie was a sweet, wonderful person that loved life, the people around her – and Jesus Christ.
The walk/run takes place in Scranton, Pennsylvania--but NAMI is a national organization that offers support groups here in Portland. If you'e so inspired, consider making a donation to them to further their important work.