More than 100 people took to the city streets on Thursday to shine the light on mental health during Wollongong’s first Walk of Pride.
People with a mental illness, their carers and supporters, marched along Burelli Street, Kembla Street and into Crown Street Mall, where there were information stalls, activities and performances to celebrate World Mental Health Day.
Arafmi Illawarra regional manager Kelly Parrish said Arafmi Hunter initiated the Walk of Pride in 2005 and the event had since spread to cities including Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne.
She was excited about the response to Wollongong’s first Walk of Pride, which would now be held annually.
‘‘It’s about raising awareness and breaking down the stigma around mental illness,’’ Ms Parrish said.
‘‘The walk also aims to provide hope and inspiration for people who have a mental illness, and for the families who care for them.
‘‘Everyone will face a mental health problem in their life, whether they experience it themselves, or whether it’s a family member, close friend or colleague who is suffering.’’
Lois Naddell, whose son Adam was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 16, took part to help break down the stigma she had witnessed firsthand.
‘‘Adam had behavioural problems from a very young age – he was always acting out – and then started hearing voices and getting violent,’’ she said.
‘‘But he’s spent time in hospital and has been getting ongoing treatment and, at 28, is now doing well. But he’s still very socially isolated and people avoid him, because he looks like he’s ill.
‘‘So I wanted to join in this walk for him, to let people know that these people are just normal people, they just happen to have an illness.’’
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery led the way for the inaugural Walk of Pride, which was followed by an expo supported by about 20 of the region’s mental health services.
‘‘The expo offers the different services the opportunity to showcase what they offer and provide people with information and advice,’’ Ms Parrish said.
‘‘It’s all about helping people who experience mental illness, and their carers, to find a pathway to recovery – and that journey is different for everyone.’’