Kathleen Merriam and Chris Giannaris

Christina O'Connor
Wednesday - September 28, 2011
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Photo courtesy Hawthorne CAT

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, mental disorders affect one in four adults and one in five children in the U.S. each year. But despite the prevalence of mental health issues, conditions such as bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia are often the target of a lot of stigma.

“Just look at your work site, or family, or when walking down the street, and if you just think one in four ... that means that people all around us have some sort of mental health issue,” says Kathleen Merriam of the Adult Mental Health Division, state Department of Health.

In order to raise awareness about these issues, the Hawaii chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), hosts its fourth annual NAMIWalk Hawaii Saturday at 8 a.m. on the Kalanimoku Building lawn. Merriam also sits on the board of directors at NAMI and is spearheading the event. The walk aims to raise community awareness and kicks off Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 2-8. It also will raise funds for NAMI so that the organization can expand its reach to the Neighbor Islands. NAMI focuses on awareness and support, education and advocacy for individuals and their families affected by mental illness. Merriam explains NAMI offers a wide range of local and national programs, including educational forums, advocating for public policy initiatives and support groups.

Volunteers such as Christopher Giannaris and his company Hawthorne CAT have been helping organize the walk. Giannaris and Hawthorne CAT employees will provide participants with a barbecue lunch. Merriam and Giannaris hope that the walk helps dispel misconceptions about mental health. Merriam says that people tend to associate mental illness with being dangerous or unintelligent, neither of which is necessarily the case. In part because of these ideas, individuals with mental illness, and their families, often feel isolated.

For Giannaris, getting involved with NAMI has been a valuable educational experience and he hopes to spread that information to others. “If you think about 25 percent of the population, it’s definitely somebody you know who is dealing with this,” Giannaris says. “I’ve become so much more educated about mental health ... and if (NAMI) does that for me, then hopefully (the walk) will do that for more people.”

The walk kicks off on the Kalanimoku Building lawn on Punchbowl and Beretania streets. After the walk, participants can enjoy lunch provided by Hawthorne CAT, information booths, music and keiki activities. Registration is free, but participants are encouraged to collect donations. Donations are also being collected online at namihawaii.org and can be made for 60 days after the event. 

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