Still I Run: Fighting Depression and Mental Health Stigma One Step at a Time
Lacing up a pair of bright pink running shoes was Sasha Wolff’s first step in truly dealing with her depression.
It didn’t feel life-changing at the time, but Wolff had just spent a week at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. She’d been diagnosed with depression in 2003 during her freshman year of college. She “popped a pill” once a week, but didn’t really do much else, ignoring it until the weight necessitated the inpatient stay in 2011.
During treatment, she filled her days with team building activities, art, journaling, going outside and getting fresh air. After her discharge, Wolff realized the value in the activity-packed schedule she’d kept. After she was home, her bed beckoned, but the bright pink shoes caught her eye. She went for a walk.
“After that 30-minute walk, it boosted my thoughts, it boosted how I was feeling,” she said.
Longer walks turned into running and Wolff started feeling better. She started to feel strong enough to talk about her depression to a therapist and eventually to others.
“It made me see that there was more to life than just popping a pill and lying in bed,” she said.
Still I Run is the community Wolff started and leads through various social media channels. Formed in October 2016, about 1,000 people have joined up, embracing the group’s mission to support those with mental health challenges and to break down stigma surrounding the issue.
“The whole idea is that hopefully this just raises awareness about mental health and encourages other people to speak up and share their stories,” Wolff said.
Community members have found relay race teammates through Still I Run and are there to cheer each other on through their physical training and day-to-day mental hurdles.
“Everybody is just really helpful and inspiring and lifting each other up,” she said.
Wolff describes her experience with depression as debilitating. She didn’t feel like smiling, laughing or participating. Everything in her brain felt negative, as though she were seeing the world through dark sunglasses.
“You just feel like you have this cloud over your head,” she said.
Advice to “buck up” or “snap out of it” only proved to make her feel worse. Through Still I Run, she hopes to educate others about the reality of living with depression. She says just as someone with diabetes needs insulin, depression sufferers are similarly missing something they need to feel well.
“You’re missing something in your body and you’re taking medication to fill what’s missing and it’s the same thing with depression,” she said.
Wolff is currently training for the Fifth Third Riverbank Run 25K and the Bayshore Half Marathon. By telling her story and allowing others to do the same through the community she’s built, Wolff hopes some of the shame that often accompanies mental illness will evaporate.
She’s started to build relationships with local race directors and would like to see the Still I Run community spread nationwide. Her ultimate goal would be to form a team of Still I Run ambassadors represented in running groups throughout the country, maybe even the globe.
Still I Run merchandise, which Wolff designs, has been shipped to 30 states so far. A portion of the proceeds benefit Pine Rest’s Patient Assistance Fund, Wolff’s way of giving back to an organization she views as a big part of her turning point. The Patient Assistance Fund helps those without resources afford mental health services.
“I don’t think anything should ever be a barrier to getting mental health care,” Wolff said.
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Editor’s note: The author of this post is a board member of PR Connect, an advisory board to the Pine Rest Foundation.
Photos courtesy of Sasha Wolff