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Walk calls for action to help those suffering from mental illness

CHESTERFIELD, MO - It’s a medical problem not everyone is comfortable talking about.  Mental illness can carry a stigma that keeps some people from seeking help.  An annual event in Chesterfield hopes to change that.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness brought hundreds of walkers together for the organization’s 16th annual NAMIWalks event.

NAMI board member and walk chairperson Bianca Chapman said it can be difficult for someone with a mental illness to get help because in some cases they fear they won’t be accepted by others.

“They can’t see a physical ailment,” she said.

Getting help can be a matter of life or death.  Tracy Warnol was walking in memory of her son Dustin Stellwagen.  He died by suicide in February.

“He worked for 2 major corporations.  He was making $150,000 dollars a year right out of college and still didn’t think he was doing good enough,” said Warnol.  She hopes anyone suffering from mental illness will understand help is available.

Walk organizers say the site of hundreds of people walking at the Chesterfield Amphitheatre Saturday is a sign NAMI is making progress.

“I think millennials as a culture are more open about mental illness and it’s because people have laid the groundwork to say it’s ok if you have this illness.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.  You’ve done nothing wrong.  It’s an illness no different than diabetes or anything else,” said Chapman.  “It’s a chronic illness.”

One of the many organizations who formed a walk team was the St. Louis Chapter of Jack and Jill of America.  The chapter’s president said identifying mental illness early and getting help as soon as possible is critical.  She was waking to help tear down some of the stigmas attached to mental illness.

“It’s uncontrollable. It’s a natural thing that happens and people who suffer from it should get the help that they need,” said Tammy Taylor.

FOX 2 was a sponsor of Saturday’s walk.  FOX 2’s Kim Hudson served as the emcee.