One Montgomery County woman spent last month traversing county trails with a purpose: raise awareness for mental health disorders and the importance of adequate mental health services.
Lauren Strawbridge, a 30-year old from Boyds, spent May – nationally known as Mental Health Awareness Month – hiking more than 150 miles of trails of Montgomery County because said long-distance hiking represents the lifelong challenge of having or caring for someone who has a mental illness.
Thirty days and 30 trails later, Mental Health Awareness Month has drawn to a close but Strawbridge said she intends to lead similar initiatives in the coming years and emphasized the importance of supporting mental health awareness efforts year-round.
A 2007 Sherwood High School graduate and Olney native, Strawbridge said she lived a “two-sided life” in high school: One, a varsity lacrosse player and member of the school’s homecoming court, the other a teenage girl with night terrors and who frequently called suicide hotlines for help.
“I straddled various diagnoses for the next eight years, when I was finally correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on a healthy plan of medicine, therapy and loving support,” Strawbridge said. “I now teach English composition at Montgomery College and share my story with my students, since many of them have the probability of experiencing similar issues either themselves or witnessing their friends struggling with mental health.”
Last month, Strawbridge set out with a goal to hike the roughly 250 miles of Montgomery County trails for a campaign with EveryMind – a Rockville-based crisis prevention and intervention company of which Strawbridge is a board member – to raise awareness about mental health issues. However, as more community members joined her on her treks, her plan evolved into “quality over quantity,” to listen to others’ stories and communicate her own.
Strawbridge visited 30 trail systems across the county between May 1 and May 31 and hiked an estimated 150 miles, raising $2,560 in an online fundraiser for EveryMind. She said she intends to make the effort an annual tradition.
“The never-ending support I’ve received continues to astound me,” Strawbridge said. “It’s wild to me, because, to alter Forrest Gump’s quote, ‘I just felt like walking.’ ”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org