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Locals fight mental illness stigma

Members of the Columbia County chapter of the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) dusted off their walking shoes the last week of May to raise awareness of mental illness, while fighting the stigma associated with it. The ninth annual Northwest NAMI Walk on May 22 was a five kilometer trek through Portland's Willamette River waterfront, as the more than 2,000 participants belonging to regional teams trod through the Eastbank Esplanade, over the Steel Bridge, around the waterfront and back over the Hawthorne Bridge.

The walk was NAMI's one big fundraising push of the year, in which the various teams received sponsorships from individuals and businesses.

Two teams representing the county's branch of NAMI raised more than $5,000, said Judy Thompson, a team captain for one of Columbia County's teams, Devers' Dynamos. The other team, headed by Julie Knapp, was named the Columbia Walkers. In part, the money raised is expected to go toward mental health training programs for the county's first responders, Thompson said. She hopes the money can be used to send police officers to Crisis Intervention Team Training, which teaches officers how to deal more effectively and compassionately with those suffering from mental illness.

More than anything, Thompson hopes to broaden the county's knowledge of mental health issues.

'People still don't know what NAMI is,' she said. 'But I think when people know more about what a valuable resource it is, it helps generate education across the board.