Tallahassee couple fights mental health stigma with 'Bluebird Run for Brookie B'
August 29, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Every October, we don our pink and take part in walks across the country to honor those living with breast cancer and those who died.
But did you know, just a few decades ago, it was considered taboo to say the words 'breast cancer' or even ‘cancer' in public.
Thanks to awareness efforts, the cancer stigma doesn't exist today.
Unfortunately, it's not the same for words like ‘mental health’ or ‘suicide’.
Recently, WCTV’s Abby Walton spent some time with a Tallahassee couple who are working to change that.
For Bill and Mary Bowers, a walk on the Alford Greenway means a stop to check in on the bluebird houses. For them, it's a way to connect with their daughter, Brook, who like the bluebirds, was a source of joy.
"She was the life of the party," Mary said.
And incredibly accomplished: Brook played three instruments, was a track star and an elite swimmer.
Until age 16, when her boyfriend died by suicide.
"She was never the same," Mary said.
That's when Brook started to spiraling.
She barely graduated from high school and college.
The Bowers said Brook was diagnosed with PTSD and border-line personality disorder.
Then, in her 20’s, a secret childhood trauma bubbled to the surface.
"It just put her over the edge,” Bill said.
Dozens of hospital stays followed.
"I don't want to mischaracterize her situation because she did have a lot of fun. She did have a lot of success, but it's just when she was low, she was really low,” Mary said.
Wanting to learn how to support Brook, the Bowers turned to the Tallahassee chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness" or NAMI.
The Bowers took part in NAMI’s ‘Family to Family’ program.
"It was a wake-up call to me at ‘Family to Family’ to see people living with mental illness. You don't just suffer mental illness. There are people who are living with it," Bill said.
And Brook did for many years until Friday, January 13, 2012, when at age 31, she took her own life.
"I think she just got tired of it all," Mary said.
NAMI Tallahassee president Nancy O'Farrell said after her death, the Bowers turned their grief into action.
"We say recovery is possible. There's always hope and sometimes if you have a loved one who's just not going to recover, it helps to be able to help somebody else," O’Farrell said.
The Bowers said when Brook was alive, they would walk with her along the greenway.
Five years ago, the couple decided to start the ‘Bluebird Run/Walk for Brookie B’ at the greenway to raise awareness about her death.
"We're trying to educate people. It's okay to talk about. You're not alone," Mary said.
Now, every Labor Day morning, hundreds come out to those not here and yes, even have some fun.
"We're sorry we lost them, but here we are and we're going to live well," Bill said.
These days that includes enjoying time with their other daughter, Gina, and helping other NAMI families.
“The Bluebird Run has been the most rewarding thing I've done since Brook died and I'm sure it's up there with one of the most rewarding things of my life. A real labor of love,” Bill said.
A love that knows while mental health issues beat Brook, her spirit of hope remains.
That happiness and recovery are within reach.
The Bluebird Run/Walk for Brookie B will take place Monday, September 2 at the Alford Greenway in Tallahassee.
The 1-mile fun run kicks off at 8 a.m. and the 5k starts at 8:30 a.m. You can still register. To learn how to do that, NAMI and other resources in our area, check out the