EAST LONGMEADOW — A collaboration between the community-minded owners of a small business and a well-known runner for charitable causes will call attention Columbus Day weekend to a public-health concern increasingly highlighted for its relation to issues like depression, addiction, and self-harm.
The GRIT Running Festival for Mental Health Awareness is being hosted by 4RUN3 in Center Square of East Longmeadow on Sunday, Oct. 10. It’s not a race, but an opportunity, its organizers say, on World Mental Health Awareness Day to participate in a “supported full and half marathon course, as well as a 5K(ish) route.” It’s also a benefit for the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA), an area nonprofit whose residential GRIT program, which stands for “growing, re-imaging, inspired, transformed,” serves individuals in recovery with mental illness as well as substance-use disorder.
“As a teacher, I am ever-aware of the importance of mental-health awareness,” said Jill Murphy, who, with her husband, Tim, is owner of the running specialty store 4RUN3. “I have lost too many former students to suicide and also watch more current students than I can count suffer with mental-health challenges every day. It’s a difficult world to grow up in, and the more awareness we raise, the more they will be understood and supported. Additionally, as a survivor of an abusive relationship in my 20s, I have a personal connection.”
Her words are echoed by veteran 53-year-old runner Bill Wells, whose marathons have raised thousands of dollars for various causes. He said he wanted to do a benefit for the Mental Health Assoc. out of concern that “mental health is still too taboo for many people to discuss even within families.
“A person may look fine, so what could possibly be the problem?” said Wells, who was diagnosed at a young age with mild depression. “Anyone who has educated themselves about mental health knows that is not true. The best way to handle a mental-health situation is to address it.”
He added that he reached out to the Murphys, longtime friends and fellow runners who organize many events for charitable causes, with “this idea of a running festival around mental health because it encourages people to exercise,” adding that “they were immediately on board.”
“It encourages people to be outdoors, it encourages people to be surrounded by like-minded people, and encourages people to communicate,” said Wells. “All of those things combat mental-health problems.”
Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding, said she is grateful to both Wells and 4RUN3 for supporting MHA in its services to those with mental illness and substance-use disorder and bringing awareness to the importance of treatment and maintaining good mental health.
“These community-wide events spark conversations,” Lee said. “They get people to think more about the topic of mental health, recovery, and suicide prevention. There is not a week that goes by that someone doesn’t reach out or send an e-mail or leave a voicemail that says something they have seen that MHA has done has in some way influenced them or made a difference to them or sparked a memory for them. The more outward-facing we are with our conversations around mental health, the more people know there is help.”
Call (844) MHA-WELL to learn more about available mental-health services. Click here to sign up for the 4RUN3 festival or to volunteer.