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Local organization plans support groups, 'Beach to Battleship' walk supporting Mental Illness Awareness Week

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Posted at 8:05 AM, Oct 06, 2021

This weekend, walk in support of the tens of millions of people who will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year.

Saturday, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Coastal Virginia chapter is holding NAMI Walks: Beach to Battleship; a fundraiser in support of the non-profit's free programs for individuals and families impacted by mental health issues.

The walk marks the end of Mental Illness Awareness Week.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three Americans have reported experiencing depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a typical year, one in five would be treated for a mental illness.

Elena Schexnider of Chesapeake says she's battled depression, anxiety and other mental health struggles since she was 11 years old and told her parents she wanted to end her life.

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By the time she was 30, Schexnider tells News 3 she tried to take her own life multiple times. It wasn't until the now 35-year-old found dialectical behavior therapy that she says those suicidal impulse became manageable.

"It makes you slow down the process and maybe make a healthier decision so instead of self-harming, or cutting is what I used to do, I would hold an ice cube and it would give me that same sort of sensation and kind of snap me out of, you know, that space," she said.

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Elena Schexnider, 35, shares her mental health story.

For three years, Schexnider has been sharing her story and leading NAMI Coastal Virginia support groups. Schexnider, who is Black, also started a new group specifically for people of color.

"I always say I wish I had somebody who looked like me when I was really going through it because it does make a difference and thankfully, I have a Black female therapist and I'm so comfortable with her and she just gets certain things without me having to explain them," she said.

NAMI Walks: Beach to Battleship encourages participants to walk where they want, when they want or to practice self-care in another way. A kickoff event is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at 17th Street at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. With a post-walk celebration scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Nauticus Museum in Downtown Norfolk.

If you or anyone you know is considering self-harm, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.