January 20, 2022

Mental health awareness walk draws 170 people

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Joe Krieg of Cortland, left, walks with Liberty Resources staff member Ashley Pittsley, right, Wednesday during a mental health awareness walk through downtown Cortland.

Most walked. Some were in scooters or wheelchairs. A cane or two could be seen.

But it was a nice day, and for 170 people, Mental Health Awareness Month was worth a march in Cortland.

“One in four people struggle with mental health, and it takes them about 10 years to get help,” said Alexandra Huntington-Ofner, a single-point-of-access coordinator with the Cortland County Mental Health Department. “We want those with problems to get help, like going to a regular doctor if you break your leg.”

The day was mostly sunny with a high temperature in the low 70s.

The crowd included people of all ages, with whole families appearing and people in walkers and motorized scooters showing their support. The marchers wore yellow shirts saying, “We are more than a diagnosis.”

The walk started at the steps of the Cortland Free Library, where library Director Jacalyn Spoon said the building had resources for anyone with mental health concerns.

Mayor Brian Tobin also made a proclamation before the walk, saying that paying attention to those around us is how we can help them get better.
“A gathering like this is what community is all about,” Tobin said.

Others agencies involved included Catholic Charities, Seven Valleys Health Coalition and the Wishing Wellness Recovery Center.Their goal was to create visibility for mental health by showing how many people either have or know someone with mental illness.

From the library, they walked along a full city block, going along Court Street, turning south down Main Street, then east along Port Watson Street, then ending on Church Street, where the attendees either rested at Courthouse Park or had lunch in the basement of the United Presbyterian Church.

One of the marchers was Lenore LeFevre, Cortland County’s assigned counsel administrator and a candidate for Cortlandville town judge who has been practicing lawyer for 20 years. She has seen firsthand how mental health can affect individuals and society, including a number of inmates she’s worked with.

“Setting people up for treatment at any stage of their illness can only help,” LeFevre said.

Julie Partigianoni, the coordinator for peer services for the Wishing Wellness Center, chatted with some people who have stopped by the center from time to time, including Dale Smith, a returning participant from last year.

“I thought there would be a lot of people coming out,” Partigianoni said. “The nice weather certainly helped.”