Written by Alexandra Swift & Tracy McEvoy
I am running the NYC Marathon for NAMI again this year to continue my journey raising money for much needed awareness for mental health.
So much has happened since I originally made the decision to run last year. After losing two teenage boys to suicide in our town in the spring of 2022, the Darien community that I call home has taken enormous strides to put an end to the stigmas around mental illness. We encourage each other to make contact and check-in with friends, we know it’s okay to reach out for help, and we are more accepting of each other’s struggles and differences.
What started as a fundraising effort for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month last fall has become an integral part of a town-wide mental health movement, and the now newly formed non-profit, called Wave Strong. At the core of everything Wave Strong stands for is the strength and power of community, and simply knowing that you are not alone. I carry the Wave Strong message with me now in hopes that through much-needed support and awareness, we can reach and help those who may be struggling in silence.
After running the marathon last November, however tired I was physically from the race did not stop the restlessness I feel about the mental healthcare system in this country. Mental Health is Health, yet we treat it as if it’s an outlier or not as important as our physical health. I would argue that mental health is the most important factor of our wellbeing as humans, and my concern for the future, especially for children, is rooted in fact:
1. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14, and the 3rd leading cause of death among those aged 15-24 in the U.S. It is in the top 10 causes of death for all age groups, including children under the age of 10. This means that suicide impacts every single age group in the U.S.
2. 33.5% of U.S. adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in 2021 (19.4 million individuals).
3. 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
These are extremely frightening statistics to see. Since March of 2022, I, Tracy, have carried the label of the mother whose son died by suicide. These statistics are reality, and yet death by suicide keeps happening. I continue to meet more and more people who carry the same intense and immense pain as I feel.
In the past 17 months, I have bonded with other survivors of suicide loss. Each conversation brings a different perspective that centers back to the stigmas around mental health, and how these stigmas are often what prevents people from getting the help they need.
One individual I’ve met who attempted suicide as a teenager can now recognize what the “black tunnel” looks like as an adult, and asks for help if he feels the he is approaching it. Another adult has struggled with mental illness all her life, and uses techniques learned in therapy to cope when she recognizes the overwhelming feelings coming on. As more of us develop tools for mindfulness, and encourage dialogue that reduces the stigmas and shame around mental illness, our goal is to help people realize that it's ok to not be ok, and avoid the approach to the dark tunnel.
There are resources and organizations, like NAMI, dedicated to helping people and families improve their mental health. And through Wave Strong, we now hope to make a direct impact on our community's mental health.
We are so grateful for everyone who has been able to follow this journey and cheer on Alex's first successful run. However, there is still lots of work to be done, and we once again ask for your help and support.
We are Stronger Together.
Learn more about what made me run in 2022:
#MM21 #HT40 #WaveStrong