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Concord residents gather at Red River Theatres for NAMI fundraising event

Signs display hopeful messages at a NAMIWalks NH kickoff event at Red River Theatres in Concord on Thursday, August 7, 2014.
(CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

Signs display hopeful messages at a NAMIWalks NH kickoff event at Red River Theatres in Concord on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

They were there for their children, their friends, their neighbors – and, in some cases, themselves.

“I walk to turn helplessness to learned hopefulness,” read one of dozens of signs lining the lobby at Red River Theaters in Concord yesterday afternoon.

Others, in boldfaced red and purple print, declared that they were there “to let people know they have support!!” and “ ’cuz it’s the right thing to do!!”

Joined briefly by Gov. Maggie Hassan, community members gathered at the theater for their first step toward NAMIWalks NH, affiliated with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The main event, organized annually to raise funds and awareness surrounding mental illness, will take place Oct. 5 at the soccer fields on the New Hampshire Hospital campus in Concord.

For his part, NAMI New Hampshire Executive Director Ken Norton said his reasons for walking were tenfold. They included, among other things, his connection to a family member with mental illness, his optimism surrounding “major steps to restore true community-based mental health services in New Hampshire” and “to remember those who have died before their time.”

“I walk to promote a message of hope that treatment works and that recovery from mental illness and substance abuse disorders is possible,” he added.

Norton praised Hassan for her “courage and integrity” to address the state’s pressing mental health needs. He cited her efforts to build bipartisan support for strengthened mental health funding, leading the state toward a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against its mental health practices and expanding benefits for mental health and substance abuse under the state’s Medicaid expansion.

The governor underscored this work in her remarks, but she stressed that serious work remains on mental health reform. As the state moves forward, she said, it will be important to “build a system that is not a ‘separate but equal’ system but is truly an integrated one” – where mental health care is more closely connected with other medical services.

She’s optimistic about the state’s ability to do that, she said, because of the efforts of those who participate in NAMIWalks NH and other outreach efforts.

“What I know about Granite Staters is that they care about each other tremendously, they understand that we’re all in this together,” she said, “and they understand that by sharing stories, helping each other understand different perspectives – and that when you do that, you come together and you find a way forward.”

With their work to spread awareness around mental health issues, she told the crowd at Red River, “You’re really a part of that.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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