May was Mental Health Awareness Month, a period dedicated to educating the public about the almost 20% of Americans who suffer from mental health-related conditions and providing resources to individuals that they can use to improve their own. But mental health maintenance shouldn’t just be relegated to those 31 days in spring. For total body and mind wellness, we should all consider what self-care means and looks like for ourselves. For Senné Associates Hunter Sleeper and Michael English, it meant stepping up for friends, family, and others like them who had struggled with mental well-being before.
In October 2020, Hunter, Michael, and a third friend from their hometown of Arlington embarked on a cross-country bike trip—from Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California, about 2,417 miles—to help spread awareness about the importance of mental health.
“Our main goal was to destigmatize the topic and have people realize that they’re not alone in their struggles,” says Hunter. Calling attention to a worthy cause that had silently affected people around them motivated the three every day in their journey. “We found that we had a lot of support in our efforts from those who had struggled with mental health challenges themselves,” Michael remarks. Knowing they had the support of family and friends back home heightened their confidence and pushed the group every mile of their ride. “We just want people to know help is out there,” adds Hunter.
As part of the Ride for Recovery, the trio raised money for local non-profits NAMI Massachusetts and The Jed Foundation, focused on diagnosing, advocating for, and providing services to those with mental health-related troubles. When asked why they chose to support these particular organizations, they pointed to each’s philanthropic mission and how these resonated with them. “NAMI offers programs that help with dual diagnosis. This is when mental health issues could lead to something such as substance abuse or other dangerous coping mechanisms,” says Hunter. “I think it’s important to make people feel comfortable enough to ask for help when they need it and let them know they don’t have to try to do it all on their own.”
The Jed Foundation specifically focuses on helping teens and young adults manage their challenges and provides them with “the skills and support to grow into healthy, thriving adults.”
“For kids especially, it can be hard to verbalize what they’re feeling. Understanding how to address and deal with these feelings is an important step in their development,” says Michael. “I think we should want to make sure they have the support they need to mature into adulthood so they can teach younger generations.”
And though at times grueling, the three found profound purpose in their mission. “The hardest part of the trip was pushing ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally to continue to wake up every morning at sunrise and bike as far as we could until sundown. Knowing we were helping spread awareness of an ongoing problem that a lot of people face in their everyday lives was what kept us going,” says Hunter.
Published: June 14, 2021
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