Hiking group founder shares her story, aims to help others with mental health problems

Urban Nerd Herd founder Amanda McCarthy is partnering with Mental Health America of Lake County to host Hike for Hope on Sept. 24. 

Last summer Amanda McCarthy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and soon after, her son was diagnosed with autism.

The news hit McCarthy hard and she became so depressed she contemplated whether or not she wanted to live.

“I realized that I wanted to live, but I had no idea how to pick up the pieces for my son and myself. I felt I didn’t have anyone to turn to,” McCarthy said.

“I remember one morning the house was a mess and my husband came home from work and I just said, ‘Here you go.’ And I left and walked around the block a few times. I came back and I felt better – it cleared my head.”

McCarthy, of Oak Lawn, went on to establish Urban Nerd Herd, a Midwest hiking group. The mission is to promote emotional and spiritual wellness by providing hiking adventures and connecting with nature.

McCarthy eventually quit smoking and drinking coffee and started walking more often. Soon she was up to seven miles a day, then 20 miles and found herself planning a portion hike on the Appalachian Trail.

McCarthy originally started the Urban Nerd Herd Facebook page so her family wouldn’t worry about her walking alone and could see her whereabouts.

“I started talking about my journey with my diagnosis as well as my journey in the local Midwest,” McCarthy said.

“I posted a group hike in March and I had a couple of people join me and it was good. During the week people would reach out to me and they wanted to walk with me. They were dealing with depression and it felt good that I wasn’t alone either.” 

Urban Nerd Herd is partnering with Mental Health America of Lake County for Hike for Hope on Sept. 24. The event is free and participants will hike the 3 Dune Challenge at Indiana Dunes State Park. After the hike, a Hike for Hope fair will follow with concessions, open-mic and vendor booths.

Renae Vania-Tomczak, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Lake County, said she is grateful for McCarthy’s support.

“We are grateful for Amanda’s support through this event to bring awareness to not only the work of our organization, but to the reality that Indiana ranks 45th out of 51 (states/District of Columbia) in the 2017 State of Mental Health report indicating a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates to access of care,” Tomczak said.

“Taking good care of your body and mind can make a difference in how healthy you are in general and how well you cope with the everyday pressures of life and your ability to adapt to change. We are excited to partner with Amanda in her journey to enhance overall wellness. Simply put, there is no health without mental health.”

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