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Circus brings awareness to mental illness

By Catherine Hunter –

“A wonderful event for a really good cause,” was the description Asheville resident Frances LaPierre gave to the NAMI Western North Carolina’s Greatest Show of Courage carnival and parade Sunday, September 23.

Approximately 300 turned out to the Roger McGuire Green to help raise funding and awareness for the mentally ill. NAMI WNC Executive Director Christine Smith said this was the first year they have held the event downtown.

“The last few years we’ve done a parade in Carrier Park,” Smith said. “This year we wanted to be bigger and more visible so we can get word out to more people. Downtown was a great place to do just that.”

Smith said they mostly want to let people know mental illness is not something to be afraid of. According to NAMI information, mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the US and Canada and, worldwide, suicide causes more deaths every year than homicide or war.

“Mental illness is not something to fear and is often stigmatized,” said Smith. “People don’t understand it can be worked on and the person can become capable of self-care.”

Circus Coordinator and WNC NAMI Board of Directors member Jesse Davis agreed the event was very successful in helping get the word out to Asheville citizens. Approximately 50 volunteers wearing bright blue NAMI shirts or colorful costumes organized raffles, a silent auction, a cake walk, and a display and sale of artwork by mentally ill clients.

Other events included local bands, Asheville’s Runaway Circus, children’s games, puppet shows, a hula hoop area, acrobatics, comedy routines and local food vendors. Many volunteers were either NAMI clients, their families or those in drug rehab along with Veterans for Peace.

WNC NAMI now has 240 members and wants those with mental illness and their families to know help is available. Smith said they now have eight support groups and two family circle groups a month. They have expanded their community outreach with efforts to help with duel diagnosis, homeless and faith outreach. WNC NAMI is also conducting Wellness Recovery Action Plan classes and other monthly education programs.

Upcoming NAMI events include a National Day of Prayer for Mental Awareness and Understanding on Tuesday, October, 9 and Mental Illness Awareness Week October, 7-13. WNC NAMI is recognizing these events with a potluck supper at the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on Merrimon, Friday, October 5.

For more information or to volunteer contact WNC NAMI at or call 828-505-7353.

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