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By Nathaniel Brown, Director of Advocacy

This past Saturday, I had the privilege of participating in the annual National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Walk in Portland, Oregon — one of hundreds of events around the country during May, which is National Mental Health Awareness Month. As the Director of Advocacy for the Chronic Disease Coalition, this event was particularly meaningful to me, highlighting the critical importance of mental health awareness and the ongoing need to integrate mental health treatment with physical health care.

The walk drew a diverse crowd of several hundred advocates, mental health professionals, and elected officials, all united by a common goal: to champion mental health and advocate for those affected by mental illnesses.

Engaging with fellow walkers and hearing their stories of struggle and resilience resonated with me, and also reminded me of the countless individuals I have met through my work with the CDC. Whether battling diabetes, heart disease, or chronic pain, many patients also face the invisible burden of mental health challenges. The stigma surrounding mental health often exacerbates these challenges, making it harder for individuals to seek help and receive the care they need.

One of the key themes that emerged from the walk was the need to treat mental health on par with physical health — this is something the CDC is working hard to make progress on throughout the country through step therapy reform, workforce development, and other legislative changes that can make the burden of chronic disease a little lighter.

Despite this, mental health services frequently remain underfunded and undervalued in our health care system. Insurance coverage for mental health treatment is often limited, and there is a persistent shortage of mental health professionals. These barriers prevent many from accessing the care they need, leading to worsening conditions and unnecessary suffering.

The NAMI Walk was a powerful reminder of why this work is so crucial. It reinforced the importance of community in advocacy, showing that together, we can drive meaningful change. By elevating the conversation around mental health and pushing for systemic reforms, we can create a healthcare system that truly supports all aspects of a patient's well-being.

The annual NAMI Walk in Portland was not just another feel-good event; it was a powerful demonstration of community and advocacy in action. Let's keep walking together towards a better, more equitable healthcare system.

Are you interested in advocacy? A powerful way to contribute is by sharing your mental health story. When you tell your story to the Chronic Disease Coalition, we share it with elected officials, the media and the general public to help educate people about what it’s like to live with a chronic disease. You help influence law and policies across the nation.

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