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An Inspiring Journey: Running, Mental Health, and Breaking Stigma

World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is September 10, 2023. Organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) with endorsement from the World Health Organization (WHO), this annual event is an ongoing commitment to focusing time, attention, and action towards suicide prevention.

Brenda Shank-Linton is a Still I Run Ambassador and firm believer in the power of community and conversation surrounding mental health and suicide. I was truly honored to connect with Brenda and share her story in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day.

Growing up on a generational farm in northern Illinois (and still living nearby today), she may not have been a runner her whole life, but she’s no stranger to being active. Her younger years were spent riding bikes along the country roads surrounding her home, but it wasn’t until seven or eight years ago that Brenda quit smoking after 20 years (woohoo!) and began running. She connected with a friend who was also an avid runner and, sure enough, she was hooked and completed The Brad Onken 5k as her first race in 2016.

As she reflected upon the immensity of losing her brother to suicide when she was just 18, she shed light on what empowered her to not just keep running, but keep connecting. What stood out about her story was her reflection on the lack of conversation surrounding mental health in the ‘90s. Much of the details surrounding her brother’s death went unshared, and in general, not many people were talking openly about mental illness.

Fast forward to 2023. Brenda is bravely changing the narrative for herself and in honor of her brother by continuing the conversation surrounding suicide and mental health.

Brenda often finds herself out on running on the same country roads she grew up on to find peace. When she began running, she was unaware that the harmful thoughts and suicidal ideations she often ran away from were a symptom of undiagnosed mental illness.

Looking back, she now sees just how much running saved her life and how normalization of conversation surrounding mental health could have saved her brother. For her, communities like Still I Run mean safety in a world where stigma surrounding mental illness persists. For Brenda, knowing we are all in this together helps her realize she is not alone.

She believes her brother would have been her number one supporter (alongside her husband) and honors him today by continuing the conversation about mental health and breaking down stigma through participation in National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) events. She even hosts her own race, the Run for Brain Health 5k. She and her husband organize the entire event themselves, and 100% of the proceeds from her race go to NAMI.

Someday, she hopes to raise enough money to donate to both NAMI and Still I Run. She dreams of one day running a race in every state while continuing the conversation and sharing her story on a larger scale.

If Brenda could leave everyone with a message, it would be to realize that while we may not always believe it, we are enough. She vehemently believes in perseverance, living each moment in life “100 proof,’ and never changing for anyone but you.


By Victoria DiGiannantonio

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