Hundreds of people in recovery from mental health and substance use disorders, their friends, families, and allies attended Tuesday afternoon’s 10th annual Rally for Mental Illness and Addiction recovery at the Utah State Capitol.
The record crowd, many of whom participated in a Walk To Remember around the grounds of the Capitol, filled the Capitol Rotunda. Their goal was to celebrate Utah Legislators, community leaders, advocates, and allies. They applauded the great efforts of many who are working to increase access to healthcare, mental health, substance use treatment, recovery support services, and affordable housing.
“I’m here add my voice to the growing number of people who know that recovery is possible,” said Jesse Holliday, one of three sober living residents who led the Walk to Remember.
“A lot of people don’t understand the internal battle addicts fight every day,” Holliday said. “This isn’t a march against anything, we’re walking together to support each other. This is what loving one another looks like.”
Amid resounding applause inside the Capitol, Mary Jo McMillen, Executive Director of the Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA), voiced the rallying cry for the day: “There is a new hope and a new life in recovery.”
With all of the pain and loss of life caused by the current opioid epidemic in the United States, an important message is being lost. Recovery offers hope and renewal for those who have too long been marginalized by their families, communities, and society in general.
McMillen pointed out that the crowd is part of a new wave of support for those who are often driven to suicide, mental illness and utter hopelessness, she said. “There is a future for them to learn how to meet life on its own terms, and not be lost and alone in their addiction.”
McMillen said heroin and painkiller addiction are on Utah’s neighborhoods’, law enforcement, mental health agencies’, and legislators’ radar. She also drew focus to far too excessive jail sentences and the common substance use disorder side-effect — homelessness.
Speakers at the event included:
State lawmakers have proposed bills intending to expand addiction treatment services in Utah.
Rob Wesemann, Executive Director of the Utah chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said his agency and USARA co-sponsor the annual event because so many of those with dealing with an addiction intersect with publicly funded social services agencies.
“We are allied in this effort because so many folks who are struggling with addiction are also struggling with just surviving day to day,” Wesemann said. “It takes a community effort to really do something that lets users of mood and mind-altering chemicals know that Utah not only just cares about them, but is in fact doing all we can to help them get a full and productive lives back. That’s what everyone wants; some have just gotten lost for various reasons along the way.”
People with substance use disorders can stay in recovery, he added, “but they can’t do it alone. Today shows that anyone who feels helpless and alone—and virtually every addict does—that Utah has many paths to help and healing.”
To see more photos of the event, check out our Facebook photo album here.