Hundreds of people attended the ninth-annual Rally for Mental Illness and Addiction Recovery at the Utah State Capitol on Thursday. Advocates and supporters took part to better understand mental illness and substance use disorders.
The event, co-sponsored by Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA) and National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah (NAMI), allowed those affected by mental illness or substance use, in one way or another, celebrate recovery.
The rally raised awareness that substance use disorders and mental illness are treatable diseases, according to Javier Alegre, Director of Development and Communications for USARA.
“Addiction is a chronic relapsing disease of the brain,” Alegre said. “It needs to be thought of that way. For us, it is important to raise awareness and to educate people that recovery is possible, and that treatment for mental illness and recovery requires long term management in order for individuals to sustain their wellness.”
Both USARA and NAMI strive to assure the stigma attached to addiction and mental illness can be eliminated.
Because mental illness and substance use disorders are national issues, Alegre believes understanding within the Utah community and government has increased. But, he also believes activism by organizations like USARA, NAMI and other community groups plays a role in fostering awareness.
“Organizations like USARA and NAMI and other community organizations that come here and speak and make there voices heard is very impactful for our community,” Alegre said.
Many members of the local and non-profit community support group, Addict II Athlete, attended the rally for recovery and the walk beforehand, including founders Blu and Marissa Robinson.
The philosophy of Addict II Athlete is to erase addictions and replacing them with something better, like healthy recreation and fitness, according to Marissa Robinson, who is also the organization’s athletic director.
Blu Robinson and many others chose to commemorate the lives lost to addiction by running 18 miles to the Capitol building from the Shops at South Town in Sandy, Utah.
“We started what we call the proxy run,” Blu Robinson said. “So we run in substitute for the athletes that have passed away.”
Along with remembering those who have fallen prey to the disease, members of the Addict II Athlete team attended the rally to advocate for funding for treatment centers.
“We are here to help bring funding for treatment centers because funding is lacking,” Judy Berrocal, an affiliate of Addict II Athlete said. “There are so many people who need treatment who just can’t afford it. We can help so many more people if we just had the funding and other means to do it.”
Christi Dees, another Addict II Athlete representative, believes the rally for recovery helps Utahns better recognize that people do recover from addiction.
“The message that we share that people do recover is huge,” Dees said. “I don’t think that people actually think that people do get better. So being here and raising awareness and fighting the stigma that is recovery is what it’s all about.”