Community mental health in action: 5K stomps out stigma

Positive chalk talk inspires 5K participants
When David Tucker lost his younger brother to suicide in 2014, he wanted to do something to help raise awareness about help for mental illness. He found the perfect way to do this, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan (MHF) Stomp Out Stigma 5K Walk for Mental Health.

“I started looking for something local and kept coming across the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan,” Tucker says. “At the time I was doing several running, cycling, and triathlon events in the area and thought that maybe somehow I could incorporate raising awareness into that. I reached out to MHF, explained who I was, what I wanted to do, and asked for permission to use their logos so I could create custom racing gear for me to wear at the events. I’ve been volunteering ever since.”

David Tucker, be nice. volunteer team leaderTucker leads his "Will Stomp Stigma" team each year for the 5K. Launched in 2010 during May, which is designated Mental Health Month, the be nice. program educates communities using an action plan to help people notice, invite, challenge, and empower themselves around mental health. The be nice. schools program is an evidence-based, K-12 systematic approach to behavioral and mental health education and awareness. The be nice. business program helps workplaces bring the action plan to the work environment. And the be nice. faith program trains liaisons from faith communities to create a movement for mental health and suicide prevention throughout their congregations.

“Our team is really made up of whoever wants to join us,” Tucker says. “We have several that do it year after year with us, but then we always have some first timers. Everyone that joins us has their own personal reasons for doing it, but it’s all centered on helping raise awareness and break the sigma.”

Walkers supporting the 2022 Stomp Out Stigma 5K
MHF has hosted its Stomp Out Stigma 5K since 2002. This year’s 5K continues the tradition. Participants include those who walk in unity with loved ones who have died by suicide, those who have their own mental health battles, and those who simply want to raise awareness.
Christy Buck, executive director, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan
“The event was initially attended by [mental health] providers for the first couple of years,” says Christy Buck, executive director of be nice. “Then it blossomed more into being about people living with mental illness and began to swirl among the folks who had lost loved ones to suicide. They found it empowering to walk for those loved ones. It’s absolutely lovely. And it makes sense to call it ‘Stomp Out’ because there is still a stigma.”

The volunteers, loved ones, and supporters who walk are seeking to eliminate that stigma by keeping the conversation about mental health going.

“A few years ago, we had a group of volunteers with placards around their necks that read ‘Ask me why I’m here,’” says Buck. “It was really cool to see and hear the stimulating conversations that were had about mental health because of those signs.”

The walk takes place Saturday, May 20, 2023. Walkers will meet at Grand Valley State University’s Seward parking lot in downtown Grand Rapids. The 5K route follows along the Grand River riverwalk. Registration is free but walkers are encouraged to raise money for be nice. 

2022 be nice. 5K team“It’s bigger than just a message of ‘be nice.’ be nice, provides an action plan to give people a tool to go out and save someone’s life,” Buck says. “Sometimes we need to talk to someone who can help us pull through to the other side of a crisis or offer us a solution.” 

Other Michigan community mental health agencies are also hosting May events that focus on stomping out stigma. St. Clair County CMH’s Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies Run for Recovery takes place May 13, 2023. In Calhoun County, the Summit Pointe Mental Health and Wellness Walk takes place May 24. The North Country CMH 23rd Annual Splash of Color Fun Run & Walk for Mental Health Awareness takes place on May 20 in Petoskey. And on May 26, Sanilac County CMH is hosting Sawyer Auger’s “It’s OK to not be OK” tour stop in Sandusky. 

People struggling with a crisis or mental health issues can visit to find West Michigan resources or call 988 for help no matter where they live.

Kelsey Sanders is a wellness professional and freelance writer and editor. She has lived in West Michigan her whole life and loves learning and writing about the many great things her area continues to do. When she’s not working, she’s staying home with her baby girl and enjoying the Lakeshore with her husband. 

Photos courtesy West Michigan Mental Health Foundation

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationGenesee Health SystemMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorth Country CMHNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
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