The third annual Los Angeles County National Alliance for the Mentally Ill walk-a-thon (NAMIWALKS) is being held this year in Santa Monica on Saturday, October 7th.

The event, “For the Minds of America,” is a 5K walk-a-thon that benefits the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to fund programs of support, education, advocacy and the encouragement of research involving mental illness.

Last year, the Los Angeles County NAMI walk-a-thon raised about $253,000 and brought 1,500 people to the event, which was held in Irwindale.

“Our goal this year is to raise $300,000,” said Shelley Hoffman, manager of NAMIWALKS Los Angeles County. “I think we’ll meet it or exceed it. I certainly hope so.”

“I think it’s going to be very successful,” said Dori Baron, secretary of the board of directors for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Los Angeles. “We’ve been working very hard.”

Hoffman guesses that the race this year will bring between 2,000 and 3,000 people. The event will also have about 175 volunteers, she said.

The goal of the nationwide NAMIWALKS events is “to raise funds, bring awareness and erase the stigma of mental illness,” said Hoffman.

Mental illness is an illness that affects or is manifested in a person’s brain and may impact the way a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

There is often a stigma attached to having mental illness — even though one in five adults is diagnosed with mental illness every year.

“People don’t talk about it, due to stigma,” said Hoffman. “I’m so excited that NAMIWALKS is being held in a major cosmopolitan area so we can get the whole issue out of the closet and bring more awareness and reduce the stigma associated with it so that major mental illnesses are treated as any other major illness.”

“Having a family member that has mental illness, I think it’s awful for these people to have this stigma,” said Baron. “I wish it could be eradicated. These people that do follow a regimen of medication can have a normal life.”

Baron and Hoffman think it’s great that Los Angeles County’s National Alliance the Mentally Ill walk-a-thon is being held in Santa Monica, “a city where there are visibly so many people homeless, a majority with major mental illness, untreated,” Hoffman said.

Founded in 1979, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is dedicated to “the eradication of mental illnesses and to the improvement of the quality of life of all whose lives are affected by these diseases.” It provides free services, including educational programs and support groups to both the mentally ill and friends and family of the mentally ill.

There are 14 National Alliance for the Mentally Ill affiliates throughout the Los Angeles County area, including NAMI Los Angeles, which serves Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Culver City and the Westside.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill — rated as one of the top 100 charities “Most Likely To Save The World” by Worth Magazine — also has affiliates in other local areas, including South Los Angeles, Glendale, Long Beach, South and East Los Angeles, the San Gabriel and East San Gabriel Valleys and Pomona.

Funds raised by the Los Angeles County walk-a-thon will help the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Los Angeles County and its local affiliates, said Hoffman.

“We need the funds to provide NAMI’s programs free of charge in communities through the country,” said Hoffman.

Registration for the event starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday, October 7th, the program starts at 9:30 a.m. and the walk starts at 10 a.m. in the 1300 block of Third Street Promenade, just north of Santa Monica Boulevard.

Information or to sign up, or the Los Angeles County National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, (213) 251-6556.