Va. cyclists plan cross-country bike ride for mental illness awareness

MCLEAN, Va. – Fairfax County firefighter Brenda Pamperin is putting her life on hold for two months, as she joins nine other riders biking out of San Diego on Monday for a ride across the country to raise awareness of mental illness.

Pamperin and another Northern Virginian, Lynn Salvo, were at a local kickoff event last month. The riders plan to blog about the trip. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department says it will provide updates on the riders’ journey on social media.

Salvo and Pamperin said they picked up the bug for a cross country ride after doing other long rides years ago. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to ride once more.

“The story is not us,” Pamperin said. “We want to talk about mental illness. We are the reason people are interested because it’s kind of an unusual thing that people are doing.”

Salvo, who is retired, says she was on a training ride over the bridge to Bethany Beach in Delaware when a couple came up beside her and they began talking. She quickly learned their son had committed suicide at age 21. She says she will be thinking of him during the ride, which is expected to end Nov. 15 in St. Augustine, Florida.

The Northern Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness organized the local kickoff event, where the group focused on the resources available in the Washington, D.C. region.

“We do have the support groups, we have the classes, we have a help line, and it can really help people who may be struggling to figure out the next step,” Executive Director Jeanne Comeau said.

During the event, Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers said the department is working on ways to divert patients with mental illness away from emergency rooms or jail so that the patients can get the help they need.

“The fire and rescue department is working with the police department, sheriff, the chairman and our board of supervisors on a program to try to make [jail diversion] a reality,” he said.

Bowers says the fire department is also working with other county agencies on medical diversions that would take people to “where they need to go, and not to the emergency room to get in what I call the spin cycle” of a brief emergency room visit followed by another call for an ambulance a few hours later.

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