Ending the Stigma

On January 7th of this year, I received an HCSEG work email from Meredith Dunne. She was asking if her group could volunteer at an upcoming planting with us in remembrance of her friend.

“Every year since my best friend lost her battle with depression, I have put on an event to celebrate her February birthday and to help end the stigma around mental illnesses,” she wrote. “I have kept all events focused on her interests – including a dessert crawl and a crafting event – with donations welcome to National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). She was always very drawn towards marine life and focused her college education on biology. She was born and raised in Seattle and always had an intense connection with the Puget Sound.”

She was born and raised in Seattle and always had an intense connection with the Puget Sound.

Many can probably read that without becoming a bit weepy, but I surely could not. Stiffening my chin (and with an awkward glance at my office mate) I responded to let her know that we would be honored.

Mental illness affects us all, whether we have grown to know it yet. It plays a central role in many lives. It can be the daily reality of your neighbor, your sister, your friend’s parents. Maybe your boss, or the barista who makes your coffee in the morning. The struggle is all around us.

But until recently, mental illness was seldom talked about. It was taboo. Never to be discussed – only perhaps in awkward whispers. And unfortunately the conversation is still a bit like this. Despite us all being effected, it’s a hard discussion to start. But once we loosen the jar, good things will come. Remove the lid, throw away the stigma, and support can flow out for all of us. Ending the stigma allows effective action to take root and creates supportive programs for our communities, as well as more empathy for one another. When there are policies helping our neighbors and the ones we love, all of humanity receives a greater capacity to thrive and to live.

Remove the lid, throw away the stigma, and support can flow out for all of us.

As a nature lover, a person who has called rivers and alpine meadows “my church,” I thought Meredith’s upcoming celebration of her friend’s life very beautiful. We are a part of this earth. We depend on it, and throughout our lives we will continue to take much from it. Honoring such a humble and thoughtful interest of her friend felt powerful to me. Because nature also heals. Watching Dippers from a riverbank, finding a patch of mushrooms, settling my aching bones into a car after a long hike, has healed me. I felt personally that serving nature in the name of mental health seems to bring this complicated life full-circle in a meaningful, satisfying way.

February 22nd arrived, and Meredith and her friends volunteered with us for hours on the Little Quilcene River, working to restore critical salmon habitat by installing native plants. All the while laughing and talking, working with cold faces and fingers. Spending time healing nature, and letting it heal us back.

If you would like to learn more about NAMI and ending the stigma around mental illness, you can visit https://www.nami.org/stigma. And if you would like to join us at our next planting, you can sign-up here.

I hope everyone finds love, healing, and a bit of themselves in nature this week.