Thursday, May 12 — The Capitol lawn was packed Wednesday with nearly 2,000 people from across the state donning shirts that read, “Mental Health Matters,” “On the road again” and “Hope with every STEP.”
Michigan’s 46 community mental health agencies that represent more than 60 counties sponsored the seventh annual “Walk-a-Mile In My Shoes” rally to promote mental health and developmental disabilities awareness.
“People here are very proud of who they are today. That’s why they come,” said Judy Hazle, community education liaison for the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties. As one of the organizers, Hazle said nearly 2,000 people came for the event.
“They are not ashamed they have an illness or disability. They want people to know they are very special,” she said.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Wednesday’s supporters urged the Legislature to recognize the importance of mental health services and to fight the stigma around psychiatric disorders and developmental disabilities that still exist in communities.
“We’d like to continue working on the stigma. It prevents people from seeking treatment earlier on when they need support,” said Michael Vizena, executive director of Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards.
“We are looking for support from the governor and Legislature because it makes economic sense as well. It’s much more cost effective to support people in the community than it is for their problems to (get) worse and they end up having to be in the emergency room,” he said.
Budgetary constraints mean a lack of access to services. Because of budget cuts in the past three years, people with moderate problems are put on waiting lists or not served at all, Vizena said.
“We want to show our new governor and our Legislature the importance of serving such a wonderful vulnerable population and to see the money stays in the budget,” Hazle said. “Because many folks here today have severe mental illness and severe disabilities. They will never be able to work but they can still recover and recovery is the key,” she said.
Hazle said budget cuts to mental health services have forced limited access to care and that agencies can only serve those with serious mental illness.
“I walk today to cooperate, to help out all the people who are fighting mental disorder,” said Nicolas Force of Lansing, who suffers from epilepsy. “What others can do is to support, to do what they can to come up with the solution and do stuff like this to help them feel as one.”