Hundreds walk in support of those affected by mental illness

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Hundreds gathered in Topeka on Saturday in support of those affected by mental illness and to spark conversation on mental health awareness.

"On September 27th, I found myself in the emergency room because I had basically an anxiety attack,” Chris Omni, community volunteer, said. “That attack was because of academics. I worked so hard to get a 4.0 GPA."

That same day, Omni was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

"There are so many of us that are going through problems and challenges, and it taxes our mental health,” Omni said. “I want to make this a normalized conversation."

Omni is among 400 people who joined together Saturday to raise awareness for individuals and families affected by mental illness at the annual NAMI Walk.

"By walking today, we are representing what it looks like as a collective to end the stigma associated with mental health, because no matter what that outer look is, you never know what somebody's going through underneath,” Omni said.

"The theme is not all heroes wear capes," Sherrie Vaughn, executive director for NAMI Kansas, said. "Some heroes are those who have a lived experience with mental illness, and how they've been able to press forward, move forward and find recovery in their mental illness against all odds. Then also their family and friends, those who supported them, who came alongside. They are also heroes."

Participants walked a 5K, taking the 3.1 mile route — and the journey to end the stigma surrounding mental illness — one step at a time.

“We have to change the narrative when it comes to mental health,” Omni said. “That's why I'm here."

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults experiences a mental health disorder in a given year.