For the third year in a row, thousands of Long Islanders will gather at the Huntington Post Office on Gerard Street on Sunday, June 6 to stomp out the stigma associated with mental illness by participating in the "Long Island Festival & Walk for Mental Health."
"The anti-stigma message of this walk is very important to everyone who is participating," said MJ Pulling, a walk committee member and director of development for the The Pederson-Krag Center. "Stigma is a significant barrier that discourages individuals and their families from getting the help they need because they fear being discriminated against. As we become more vocal and visible, we hope to dispel the many myths that surround mental illness in our community."
Walkers will follow a short route ending at Heckscher Park where Rhona Silver, owner of the New Huntington Townhouse, and Jo-Ann Raia, Huntington Town Clerk and president of the Pederson-Krag Center will be honored for their ongoing commitment within the community for battling the stigma associated with mental illness. Jessica Lynch, Miss New York State, along with Tom and Donna O'Clair, the couple behind Timothy's Law, will also attend in a "show" of support.
A special presentation will be made by former Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals Sol Wachtler who will be recognized for his efforts to overcome severe mental health obstacles in his life by using the challenges and experiences with his own mental health issues and sharing them publicly to make this world a better place for those living with mental illness. In addition, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will be honored for her continued support and endorsement of "The Keeping Families Together Act," bipartisan federal legislation to improve access to care for children with emotional or mental disorders.
There will be an art show, music, food and plenty of exhibits to further encourage the walk's anti-stigma message. The day also offers a mix of talents from the mental health community, local schools and dignitaries.
"The toll that mental illness takes on our society cannot be ignored," Clinton said. "The statistics are alarming. One in five people nationwide are affected by mental illness and the suicide rate among adolescents has skyrocketed over the past several years. I continue to support legislation to provide better services and ensure the rights of those suffering from mental illness including our children."
Tom and Donna O'Clair are responsible for the effort to get Timothy's Law passed by the New York Senate and the Assembly. The bill is named for Timothy O'Clair, their 12-year-old son who was afflicted by mental illness and three years ago committed suicide. Because insurance companies routinely differentiate between individuals diagnosed with mental health disorders and those with physical disorders, the O'Clairs spent years trying to access treatment for their son and Timothy was unable to get the care he needed for his problems. Timothy's Law is intended to ensure that the state will provide coverage for mental health and chemical dependency that is on par with coverage for other illnesses. The O'Clairs are responsible for bringing the issue of mental illness "parity" to the forefront of today's legislative issues.
Those who would like to participate should gather at the Huntington Post Office at 12:45 p.m. The walk will officially begin at 1 p.m. and will include thousands of participants including over 100 members from the Working Families Party along with the Chairman Chuck Pohanka. The walk will end at Heckscher Park where walkers will be welcomed to the town by Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone.
Transportation to the walk throughout Long Island may be provided to those that request it. Bus stops have been scheduled at various Long Island locations such as Hands Across Long Island in Islip, Concern for Independent Living in Medford and Sayville Project in Sayville.
For more information or to arrange transportation, call (516) 822-6111, ext. 252 (in Nassau) or (631) 434-9277, ext. 337 (in Suffolk).