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Utah residents walk to fight mental illness - one step at a time

Published: Saturday, Sept. 24 2011 4:16 p.m. MDT

TAYLORSVILLE — Olympic silver medalist Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson wanted to make sure that young people didn't have to suffer the long battle with depression that he did. Friends say that was his wish.

On Friday, Team Speedy, comprised of Peterson's friends and Olympic teammates, walked in the National Alliance on Mental Illness's 7th annual NAMI Walk to raise awareness of mental illness.

Walking with friends, who carried posters with Peterson's picture, Olympic teammate Graham Watanabe said Peterson was concerned about reaching out to youth who battle with depression.

Peterson, who took silver as an aerial skier during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, took his life last July in Lambs Canyon after a long battle with depression and alcohol abuse. He was 29.

"It's a testament to him," Watanabe said. "I think this day in particular is really special because it's a way to kind of realize some of the dreams that Speedy himself had. Because he suffered so deeply with those things, he didn't want others to go through what he did."

Over 1,000 people gathered at Valley Regional Park to take part in one of dozens of such walks held in communities across the U.S., organized by NAMI.

Some people who work in the health and mental health fields walked for support, while others formed groups to walk in remembrance of loved ones.

National statistics from NAMI show that one in four Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. "You're not alone in this. We are all here together," said walk organizer Amber Watkins. "Where there is hope, there is healing."

Watkins said mental illness still holds a stigma among some who choose not to talk about it and who don't seek help. Watkins said many conditions can be treated and recovery is possible.

Valley Mental Health maintains a mental health line where people can seek help: (888) 949-4864.

A group of students from the University of Utah, members of a fraternity and sorority, walked Friday in remembrance of two respective members who died this past year. "We're walking for them, on their behalf," said Cole Rydalch.

Wearing a big button with her son's picture, NAMI Utah board chairwoman Lisa Potter said events like the walk are designed to raise funds for public education and to let people know, "we are here, and we can help."

Potter said her son took his life at 24 after an 8-year struggle. "For me, it's a really powerful way to keep him alive," she said.

Peterson's friends have formed The Speedy Foundation, which raises money for mental health research, advocacy and sports activities for at-risk youth.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com

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