Sandy Hook Team 26 Will Walk For Mental Health

Putting one foot in front of the other is the way that Newtown Action Alliance (NAA) is supporting changes to mental health accessibility, affordability, knowledge, and awareness.

NAA is putting together a Sandy Hook Team 26 to walk in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 5K fundraiser, scheduled for Saturday, May 18, in Hartford. The Sandy Hook Ride on Washington cyclists, who last month pedaled their way from Newtown to the nation’s capital, has shared their logo and name with the walkers.

“We were very inspired by the cyclists taking physical action to make a change,” said Sandy Hook Team 26 Captain Erin Nikitchyuk. Each of the walkers registered with the team has a minimum individual goal of $100, “but our overall team goal is to be among the leading teams,” said Ms Nikitchyuk. “We feel like it would be very powerful to have a Newtown team showing the world with our team efforts that we support finding solutions to the many complex contributing factors that resulted in our tragedy [at Sandy Hook School],” she said.

The team is raising the tax-deductible funds to support NAMI in assisting families touched by mental illness, and to educate and advocate on mental health issues. The money raised in Hartford on May 18, Ms Nikitchyuk said, will benefit NAMI Connecticut and stay local to the state.

Mental illness does not mean there is something inherently wrong with a person, Ms Nikitchyuk believes.

“When you have a physical ailment, you have no fear about getting help. [Mental health] is the same thing, an unexpected event, and some need help getting through it. Most who struggle with mental illness have the capability of getting through [with adequate help],” she said. That those in need of mental health do not ask for it, due to social stigma or expense, is sad, said Ms Nikitchyuk.

“I feel strongly about supporting NAMI. They are big enough to keep track of legislation and issues that affect mental health issues,” said the Sandy Hook mother of three, who has personal reasons for promoting this cause.

“I have a third grader at Sandy Hook School. My son was in the front hall of the school when the shooter broke in [12/14],” said Ms Nikitchyuk, who said she can only imagine what her son experienced before being grabbed and pulled into a classroom by a teacher that morning.

All things considered, her son is doing okay, she said, and she called what the town has done since 12/14 in making counseling and mental help accessible and affordable “remarkable.” She praised the availability of counseling as her family has worked its way through the trauma of 12/14.

Previous to 12/14, she had also witnessed other difficulties when mental health help is needed.

“I also lost a dear friend to severe mental illness. In her early 20s, paranoid schizophrenia manifested itself, as it typically does during late adolescence or early adulthood. I was very involved in supporting her and her family through the experience. It was a truly devastating and eyeopening experience that ended with her taking her own life,” Ms Nikitchyuk said. Until a person experiences the difficulties in coordinating care for mental illness, she said, “You don’t realize how difficult that is, in this country.”

Another mother of a third grade student at Sandy Hook School, Jen Vitti, said that she will be walking with Team 26 to support NAMI, to honor families that lost someone on 12/14, and to help encourage more being done for mentally ill people and for the mental health industry.

“I’m hoping something can be changed with how mental health is addressed in our state and nationwide,” said Ms Vitti. “My daughter experienced something that didn’t have to happen if there was help for people who need it,” she said.

“We saw the worst case scenario [at SHS] of what happens when we don’t support people who need it. [Adam Lanza] obviously needed more support than society gave him,” said Ms Nikitchyuk.

Donations to support Sandy Hook Team 26 can be made at namiwalks.nami.org/SandyHookTeam26. A link to each registered team member can be found there, with stories of why they choose to walk. New team members are still welcomed, too. Anyone wishing to join the team should contact Ms Nikitchyuk at nikitfamily@gmail.com.

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