by Clair Norman, Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation
In the early 90’s while attending JMU, I recall my communications professor Dr. Mae Franz stating, “Do not list raising awareness as a goal, it is not measurable.” She never said it wasn’t important. I innately knew awareness was required to educate and inspire positive change. I held tightly to its importance, even though it is lofty and immeasurable. Whether shifts occur from conversation or public relations, awareness is key. Thanks to Dr. Franz and lived experience, I learned awareness is the catalyst for positive change which is, in fact, measurable.
I was aware my niece, Cameron Gallagher struggled with mental health challenges. I felt deeply for her suffering. Her loneliness caused by stigma still breaks my heart.
After a particularly difficult period which included in-patient hospitalization, my sister asked me to offer Cameron private yoga. I cherish the experience beyond measure. My awareness of Cameron’s mental health challenges grew. My love for her and my compassion for teens grew immeasurably. She educated me through conversation and silence about her difficulties and her hope. Cameron craved healing and peace. She was willing to give yoga a chance. Her awareness of the benefits of yoga led her to the action of practice. Yoga became her hope-in-action. Cameron will always be my catalyst for compassionate action regarding teen mental health. She indeed, raised my awareness.
Yoga with Cameron was in full effect. She was reading books, journaling and practicing regularly. It was working and it was cool to her. On the morning of March 16, 2014, we did not know our last class was behind us. When Cameron died of an undiagnosed heart condition just after she met her goal of completing the Shamrock Half Marathon, she left many broken hearts wondering ‘Now what?’. The kind-hearted Cameron left us the biggest PR campaign for teen mental health. It started with raising awareness. Cameron didn’t much like math, so I expect she cared little about how to measure awareness.
It started with self-reflection. Cameron asked questions like, “If I am not afraid to talk about it, why are you?” She stated, “I would love for the community to open their eyes and see this is not an issue we can run away from and pretend it’s not there.” So true. So wise. Now what?
Know you are not alone. Everyone has a brain and therefore mental health. Caring for mental health is just as important as physical health. Measures to care for and prevent illness should be as daily as brushing your teeth.
Community support for mental health should be fun and active rather than siloed in whispered conversations. Step two of Cameron’s PR campaign: design a fun, unique 5k race to celebrate mental health. Results from Cameron’s SpeakUp5k can be measured by the thousands.
Cameron continues to raise awareness and provide education. She inspires next steps.
Visit http://www.ckgfoundation.org to learn more.