History walk increases awareness

September 28, 1997


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - A year ago Sharon Smith didn't understand mental illnesses.

She knew of the stigma attached to mental illnesses and she also knew she had a loved one suffering from depression.

Through a free 12-week Journey of Hope course she took last spring, Smith has not only learned about her loved one's illness, but has gained a circle of support from new friends.

On Saturday, she was one of more than 50 people who walked five kilometers around Antietam National Battlefield to help increase awareness of mental illnesses and raise funds for those suffering from chronic mental illnesses.


"You learn it can happen to anyone, anytime, of any age, any income," said Smith, 44, of Hagerstown.

A support group Smith joined in May has made her realize there are many people she can call for help. "It just makes you feel you're not alone," she said.

The support group Smith joined, Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Washington County, Inc., meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at the Trinity Lutheran Church at North Potomac Street and Randolph Avenue.

The Alliance sponsored Saturday's 3.3-mile walk to raise money that goes directly to help those suffering from chronic mental illnesses such as major depression, bipolar and schizophrenia, officials said.

More than $2,000 from 250 pledges is expected to be raised to help pay for costs such as dental care, prescriptions, eyeglasses and security deposits, said Bill Kercheval, one of the event's organizers.

The Washington County Mental Health Authority also chips in toward those costs, said Acting Executive Director Rhonda Lindenbaum.

There are about 1,500 people in Washington County with mental illnesses, including children and senior citizens, Lindenbaum said.

Besides raising money for the mentally ill, the alliance goes to bat legislatively for them, trying to ensure funding for the mentally ill isn't cut, said Nancy Kercheval, one of the event's organizers.

The alliance and the state Anti-Stigma Project also try to fight the stigma of mental illnesses, Kercheval said.

A recent victory was over the Baltimore Ravens football team, which had a radio advertisement asking people to come out to the "biggest insane asylum on the East Coast," officials said.

For more information on the Journey of Hope class, call Nancy or Bill Kercheval at 301-824-4691.

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