Photo courtesy of David Gallagher
Many Richmonders know about Cameron Gallagher, the Freeman High sophomore who died of a heartbeat irregularity after completing her first half-marathon this past March. Although her life ended representing the verse that has become her memorial’s motto, Fight… Finish… Faith, this would not be Cameron’s last race.
Her too-short life has inspired a new event, the Speak Up 5K, which will be held in Byrd Park on Sept. 6. The race was created out of Cameron’s desire to raise awareness about youth depression, with proceeds to benefit the Virginia Treatment Center for Children (VTCC). After she died, her parents found detailed outlines for the event, the goal of which was to get people talking about mental health. She wanted to make it acceptable to talk about and overcome depression without stigma or judgment. She’d even already written her race-day speech, detailing her own struggles.
Cameron contended with major depression and knew firsthand the hardships of the illness and public opinion. Even her father, Dave Gallagher, admits his initial ignorance: “Until I witnessed my daughter’s battle, depression was something I believed a person could just shake off with mind control.”
Recovering is not that simple. “Depression is a chemical imbalance that changes mood,” explains Rupa Murthy, director of development at VTCC. “A person who has no rational reason to be unhappy can become immobilized by sadness and despair.” According to Murthy, although mental illness affects one in five children, only 20 percent get help. The most detrimental outcome of depression is suicide, the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Cameron wanted people to recognize the symptoms of depression and know that help was available through VTCC.
Although dark periods consumed Cameron, her parents say that when her depression lifted, she was a life-loving, beautiful girl who cheered on teammates at swim meets, stuck up for her younger siblings and found any excuse to make cookies for friends. Her mother, Grace, believes this dichotomy fueled Cameron’s passion to help others. “Cameron didn’t let depression define her; she led a life full of friends and interests. So she knew what it felt like to be both popular and the underdog. She went from questioning why God allowed her to feel so miserable to understanding that God gave her depression to help others who weren’t so lucky to have a voice.”
The name she chose for her race, the Speak Up 5K, says it all. Cameron believed that making it OK to talk about mental health issues would not only combat the stigma associated with depression, it would let families who deal with depression know they aren’t alone.
“If a child has her appendix out,” Grace explains, “the neighborhood pitches in with casseroles and carpool help. Depression is a different story. We kept Cameron’s struggles private to protect her. We didn’t want her to be judged.”
But Cameron didn’t accept this cultural norm. “Why don’t people talk about it?” her parents say she would question. “It should be OK for people to talk about their issues, no matter what they are. People need love and support.”
The Speak Up 5K broadcasts Cameron’s mission to let people who deal with depression know that they are cared about, they are not alone, they should feel no shame and they should seek help when needed, because treatment saves lives.
For more information or to register for the race, visit speakup5k.com.
The VTCC (515 N. 10th St.,828-3129) is part of the Department of Psychiatry at VCU Medical Center. VTCC provides inpatient acute care, crisis stabilization and a full spectrum of outpatient mental health services for children and adolescents ages 3 through 17.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)