To celebrate and bring awareness to Mental Health Awareness Month, Utah County businesses have established a coalition to organize virtual races from May 29-31.
Taft, a Provo-based men’s shoe company, joined the Room Here coalition earlier this year.
Room Here is a nonprofit coalition of business leaders from across the state of Utah that aims to raise awareness about the importance of mental health, normalize the conversation around mental health and provide Utahns with better access to mental health resources.
Taft co-founder Mallory Stevens said she was on the ground level with the coalition’s founders as they wondered how they could make an impact in Utah and help create an environment to improve the mental health of residents.
Mental health is a topic that hits home for Stevens as her husband and co-founder of Taft has been diagnosed with depression. She worked hand-in-hand with him to find a way of life that worked to improve his mental health.
In doing so, she learned not only about the importance of mental health but also just how critical it is for people experiencing mental illness to have accessible and affordable resources.
“Because of Kory’s experiences, how much difficulty he’s faced, and how hard we’ve had to work to find something that helps him, we really want to do whatever we can for others,” Stevens said. “I had learned so much through my own life experience about what people need when they’re in that mindset.”
Seeing her husband face the day-to-day challenges he was able to overcome was not her first experience with mental illness, however. When Stevens was in middle school, her older sister attempted suicide, she said.
From a young age, Stevens said, she understood the weight people with mental illnesses carry and how it could affect those who might have been afraid to reach out for help.
Now, Stevens and her husband have joined the Room Here coalition to raise money and awareness for a topic that is so close to her and her family.
Room Here is celebrating its launch with its first event: a virtual race. Residents can register online to run one mile, a 5K or a 10K distance, and registration ranges from $7 to $12 per person.
“A 5K feels like something you shouldn’t be able to do virtually,” Stevens said. “But we have printable race bibs online and racers can track and submit their results online.”
When racers submit their results, they are posted on a leaderboard that allows them to see where they placed. The virtual race will take place from May 29-31, with final results due by the last day.
Stevens said she is excited to see how many people will participate in the race, as each person who registers will be representing the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month and standing in solidarity with friends and family diagnosed with mental illness.
“Especially with the COVID-19 situation, you can feel so isolated and disconnected,” Stevens said. “I love the idea of everybody getting out and running in unison, even if it is together, but separately.”
Proceeds raised by racer registration fees will also be allocated to Room Here, which will use the funds to back mental health resources and raising awareness for the growing demand for mental health intervention.
Utah is ranked No. 48 in the nation for high prevalence of mental illness while simultaneously having low access to care, according to Mental Health America (lower rankings indicate lower prevalence of mental illness and higher rates of access to care).
According to the United Health Foundation, in 2019, for every 100,000 residents there were 23 people who died by suicide, which is 8.5 more people per 100,000 residents than the national average. Additionally, the state is ranked fifth for the highest number of suicides.
Room Here is also planning to host more virtual events to get people out of the house or connect people across the state while maintaining social distancing standards, Stevens said.
The organization is organizing trainings for people who want to be more educated about the signs of mental illness or how to point people with mental illness to the appropriate resources.