WILLMAR -- After several young people took their lives this spring, there were open discussions about mental health in community schools and around dinner tables.
And while communication is a vital part of good mental health, an event next week will put some legs under the words to carry the message even further.
For the third year in a row, Kandiyohi County Family Services is sponsoring a 5K walk/run as part of the Mental Health Awareness Month. This year the event will be May 17 at Robbins Island in Willmar.
The walk/run will emphasize how physical fitness and diet is an "integral link," to how people feel mentally," said Carmen Clementson, family services supervisor.
Educational materials about mental health, as well as resources for people who need services and those who are advocates for mental health, will also be available.
The run is also an opportunity for the community to link arms for a common cause.
"We want to do something positive to involve the whole community," said Tammy Thompson, who's coordinating the event.
"I really think it's an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate life and enjoy being healthy and happy and to really let people know individuals with mental health issues are just like everyone else," she said.
Bringing the issue out in the open is also another way to "reduce the stigma" of mental illness and help keep the issue "in the forefront," said Thompson, adding that a community event like this sends the strong message that "we're out here and supportive."
Last year about 350 people participated in the walk/run. Organizers anticipate more people will participate this year, which will help "blur the line" of who's there as a consumer, a mental health professional, community supporter, or neighbor from down the street, Thompson said.
The past runs have drawn a "really good cross-section" from the community, she said.
Registration forms for the event are available at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building and from area mental health providers, clinics, PACT for Families, participating businesses and at the county's web site: www.co.kandiyohi.mn.us.
Participants can also register at 4:30 p.m. on the day of the race at the Guri Endresen Shelter at Robbins Island.
A $3 registration fee includes a free T-shirt for the first 250 people that show up at the park, as well as sub sandwiches and water. There is no fee for kids under 6 years of age.
After a proclamation about mental health awareness is read, Kandiyohi County Board Chairman Dean Shuck will start the race at 5:30 p.m. May 17.
"Many people just walk the route, or a portion of the route," said Thompson. Some people are in wheelchairs, some people walk with their dogs and some people participate by staying at the shelter. "We try to make it fun and accessible," said Thompson.
But there is a spirited competition for those who choose to run.
Medals will be awarded to top racers in four age categories: 50 and older, 30-50, 17-30 and 16 and under.
Last year the fastest participant ran the 5 kilometers, which is 3.2 miles, in about 19 minutes.
For more information call Thompson at 320-231-7800, extension 2450.