Locals walk for mental illness awareness

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Some locals woke up early to go on a walk to raise awareness about an illness that often carries a negative stigma.

"What's really important to understand is that you don't know who has a brain disorder," said Charlotte Lechene, who walked for her son.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Bay County, or NAMI, held its 11th annual awareness walk Saturday. More than 50 people came together at Oaks by the Bay in Panama City to raise awareness about mental illness and to gather support for those affected by it.

"We urge all people who might have this as a challenge in their life to get in touch with NAMI, join us and get that support that you need. Find the trust that you need and find activities that can participate in," said Kathryn Samuels, the President of NAMI of Bay County.

Lechene, a first time NAMI walker, has a personal tie to mental illness.

"I moved to Panama City two years ago and so I just got involved in NAMI. My son had a psychotic breakdown. He has schizo-effective disorder," said Lechene.

She said her son does not allow his mental illness to define him.

"My son is actually a brilliant writer and poet and you would not know that he has mental illness," said Lechene.

Lechene hopes one day people won't view mental illness negatively.

"There is a stigma that is associated with it. My son now, as a writer and a poet, he tells everyone he has schizo-effective disorder, and that breaks the stigma," said Lechene.

NAMI officials told us the first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week.