In an effort to increase awareness of mental illness and eliminate the stigma, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Billings is raising the profile of its signature fundraising event.
The 11th Annual NAMI Billings Bike Ride, for the first time, will begin and end at ZooMontana, one of Billings’ most visible and family-friendly landmarks. In the past, all routes began and ended at the Molt Community Center.
The venue change is tailored in part to attract more families with children. For the first time, there is a 2-mile Family Fun Loop.
“With mental illness awareness, it’s great when you can start the education process at a younger age,” said Kenneth Dean, community outreach coordinator for NAMI Billings, who began duties in June.
Last year’s event drew about 100 riders; organizers are hoping for at least 150 participants for the Aug. 3 event. The tagline for this year’s event is, “Pedal Past Stigma.”
NAMI Billings’ mission is to support, educate and advocate for those affected by mental illness, including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. It offers support groups, education classes and other programs for people with mental illnesses, their families and the general public. Services are provided at no charge.
NAMI Billings operates solely from donations and the annual bike ride is the organization’s only fundraiser. All contributions go directly to providing services and support for people affected by mental illness. The fundraising goal for this year is to raise at least $45,000 through registration fees and sponsorships.
Dean, 33, had a breakdown in 2010 while working on his bachelor’s degree. He suffered with anxiety and depression but with the help of medication, counseling and the support of friends and family, he is now working toward his master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling at Montana State University Billings.
Mental illness also runs in his family. Two relatives committed suicide and a third relative was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“It’s a truth,” Dean said. “You can’t be afraid of the truth. My mission is to let anyone who lives with mental illness know that they are not alone — and that there are resources available.”
This year’s event features five route options ranging from 2 miles to 62 miles.
The Billings affiliate of NAMI, the nation’s largest grass-roots mental health organization, was founded in 1995 and has grown to support more than 2,000 people each year struggling with mental illness.
Trained volunteers with personal experience either in recovery or as a family member of someone with a mental illness provide NAMI Billings’ services.