SILVER SPRING – In some of her darkest times, Lauren Wolf Strawbridge found relief in nature. And in her moments of intense adrenaline, she hiked to relieve her excess energy.
During May, Strawbridge, a board member at EveryMind, is walking more than 200 miles of the county’s paved and natural trails to highlight her organization’s crisis prevention and intervention efforts during Mental Health Awareness month.
Last year, the non-profit organization answered 15,500 telephone calls, 108 texts and 1,495 chat messages for help, according to Rachel Larken, director of crisis prevention and intervention services.
While that may seem like a lot, thousands more cries for help went unanswered.
“We are missing almost as many calls as we answer, because we don’t have the bodies to answer the calls,” said Karen Duffy, chief development officer at EveryMind.
Duffy estimated it costs $50 an hour to answer a call, which includes the costs of salary, time spent filling out reports and quality assurance. Managers must review all calls to see if they were handled correctly, she explained.
“We are underfunded and understaffed,” Strawbridge, 30, said.
So Strawbridge decided to start walking and inviting people to walk with her and donate. She calls her efforts, “Every Trail for Every Call for Every Mind.”
As of last week, she had raised $1,600.
Strawbridge is in her second year on the board of EveryMind and is an advocate for keeping mental health issues out in the public and not hidden away.
She labels herself “outspoken” about her own mental health issues. She was considered depressed for several years before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years ago.
Many of her issues were considered just teenage girl problems, she said.
When she was 17, Strawbridge was on the high school lacrosse team and a member of the homecoming court.
“At the same time, I was experiencing hallucinations,” she explained during a four-mile walk along Sligo Creek Trail in Silver Spring.
She went on to college, where she changed her major nine times and changed schools four times.
“That should have been a red flag,” she said. Instead, “everyone thought, that’s just Lauren.”
A therapist prescribed medicine for depression, which exacerbated her problems and sent her to “a psych ward for suicidal tendencies,” she said.
Shortly after her release, she traveled to Chile.
“I had these ups and downs for a couple of years,” Strawbridge said.
But continued episodes of depression and adrenaline problems as well as difficulties with personal relationships convinced Strawbridge to see a psychiatrist, who correctly diagnosed her and helped her get her life together.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in writing and currently is a professor of English composition and rhetoric at Montgomery College in Rockville. She also has been happily married for two years, she said.
Strawbridge has told her students about her mental health issues and, because of that, some of them have come to her with stories and questions, she said.
Having someone to talk to is very important, she said, adding that EveryMind’s crisis line can fill that role.
Whenever her thoughts wander away from her, Strawbridge finds it helpful to hit the trail.
“Outdoor therapy is not a replacement for medicine or therapy,” she said.
But, for Strawbridge, physical activity gets her out of bed on bad days and “keeps me active. I am still in touch with my outdoor self.”
Montgomery County Department of Parks quickly got on board to support Strawbridge’s 200-mile trek through the county, said Marilyn Sklar, public information officer.
Strawbridge’s efforts “bring out the importance of nature,” she said. “We think it is wonderful that she is being inspired by the parks.”
Sklar added, “Wellness is very important to us in terms of Montgomery County residents.”
EveryMind, which aims to reduce the stigma of mental illness, is located in the Twinbrook section of Rockville. It currently provides crisis intervention, direct services and referrals.
EveryMind is involved in 11 schools throughout the county in the Linkage to Learning program, which is run by the Montgomery County Public Schools and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.