CRANFORD — Not everyone who has battled mental health issues or addiction may be ready to talk about his or her struggles, but anyone who seeks solidarity with those who've been through similar troubles is a perfect fit for the Mental Health Association in New Jersey's 10th Annual 5K Walk for Wellness and Recovery.

Carolyn Beauchamp, MHANJ president and CEO, said the event started simply as a fundraiser. Her organization is advocacy-oriented, and as a private, statewide nonprofit, there is often difficulty in raising money for advocacy endeavors.

"What it's changed into is a real effort to reduce the stigma that's connected to mental illnesses, mental health issues, and substance abuse issues," she said. The walk now brings together a wide range of people in a show of solidarity, Beauchamp added, to prove that recovery is possible.

Many participants are recruited, so to speak, from MHANJ's wellness centers across the state. Every county has at least one center. By taking part in the walk, these people, who can often be isolated in their darkest hour, have the opportunity to feel welcome in a sort of community.

One of the non-walk elements at the yearly event is a series of tables disseminating information about where to seek treatment. That doesn't always get people to open up, but Beauchamp said it doesn't hurt, either.

"Some of them are not quite ready to speak out as having had a mental illness; others are very willing to talk about it," she said.

Beauchamp credits Gov. Chris Christie's focus on destigmatizing New Jerseyans' treatment options for mental illness and addiction for a spike in activity on MHANJ's call line, NJ Connect for Recovery. Free and confidential, that number is 855-652-3737.

The Walk for Wellness and Recovery, in partnership with Monarch Housing, is Saturday, Oct. 14 at Nomahegan Park in Cranford. It's a dog-friendly event, and also includes raffle prizes and a face painter for children.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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