Paddling, pedaling in name of mental health

Derek Davis is biking and kayaking to raise funds and awareness for mental health services. Proceeds go to Mental Health America of Franklin County.
Derek Davis is biking and kayaking to raise funds and awareness for mental health services. Proceeds go to Mental Health America of Franklin County.

(Posted July 8, 2016)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Derek Davis was a sophomore in college when he had his first panic attack.

“Each day started to get a little bit harder for me,” said Davis, 24, a 2011 London High School graduate. “I ate right, exercised, had a good family. Anxiety and depression was something new to me.”

Davis graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in human development and family science and entered the work force.

“I was able to go to work every day, but I was in a very dark place,” he said.

When one of his cousins committed suicide last year, the news came as a shock to Davis and his whole family.

“After that, my eyes started to open up to mental illness and the fact that it is chemicals in your brain not working,” he said.

Davis sought help for his own condition, finding it through Mental Health America (MHA), a community-based non-profit founded in 1909 to address the needs of people living with mental illness and to promote overall mental health.

“They help you figure out where to turn, how to take the first step. They offer referrals and support groups. It’s a very caring organization,” he said.

Davis is giving back to the organization through a unique fundraiser he has dubbed “Normalize through Adventure.” All proceeds will benefit MHA’s Franklin County, Ohio, branch.

The adventure involves Davis biking 80 miles from his home in Grandview to Dayton, then kayaking solo from Dayton to Hamilton County near Cincinnati via the Great Miami River. The 170-mile adventure began July 9 and runs through July 14.

“I have a strong love for physical activity and I love being outside. I wanted to combine things that I love,” he said of the inspiration behind the effort.

Along the way, Davis looks forward to meeting new people and spreading the word about mental health and, specifically, Mental Health America.

“My main goal is to show people who are struggling with mental illness—depression, anxiety, bipolar—that you are loved by other people and that what you are experiencing is a real illness, but that it’s also very treatable and nothing to be ashamed of. You can get back to the way you want and deserve to live,” he said.

Soon after he completes his adventure, Davis will start a new job as a mental health technician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

For more information about Mental Health America of Franklin County, go to

How to donate

Derek Davis is biking and kayaking to raise funds for the Franklin County branch of Mental Health America. To learn more about his effort and to donate, visit “Normalize through Adventure” on Facebook or visit

Excerpt from Derek’s statement on his fundraising page

“I think a huge barrier to getting proper treatment is the stigma surrounding mental illness. I was in a very dark place for a long time because I didn’t take the proper steps in seeking help that I needed for my anxiety and depression. The reason I didn’t seek help was because I was embarrassed and didn’t know where to get help. I thought that as a man it made me weak to get help, but now I recognize that getting the proper treatment allows me to be the best version of myself, which is pretty strong! … I continue to seek help for my illness and I am incredibly optimistic for the future.”

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