The annual Folks on Spokes Ride/Step Forward Memorial 5K is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 15, to bring together hundreds of cyclists and walkers to raise funds to support Bridges Healthcare’s community mental health and addiction recovery services for Milford, Orange, West Haven and the surrounding towns.

Participants can bike any combination of the 5, 10, 20 and 40 mile routes along the scenic Connecticut coastline or walk the 3.2 mile shoreline trail. All are welcome to join the Remembrance Ceremony at 9:45 a.m., where the event will pay tribute to lives lost to addiction, overdose, suicide or other mental health-related issues.

“In an effort to bring mental health and substance abuse issues out into the open and remove the stigma often attached to these health disorders, Bridges Healthcare works to raise awareness and provide the needed support and treatment services,” said John Dixon, Bridges Healthcare CEO and president. “The Folks on Spokes Ride/Step Forward Walk raises funds and demonstrates the community’s support for eliminating the silence, solitude and stigma that often surrounds mental illness or suicide and creates a system where no one has to face these disorders alone.”

Registration and check-in begin at Fowler’s Field in Milford at 7:30 a.m., the ride begins at 8:40 a.m., the remembrance ceremony is at 9:45 a.m. and the 5K walk starts at 10 a.m. Pre-registration fees are $40 per cyclist, $30 per walker and $15 for all youth (ages 7 to 17; 6 and under are free) and include a free event t-shirt and refreshments. For those registering the day of the race the fees are $50 and $40 respectively.

One Bridges Healthcare client has participated in Folks on Spokes for 21 years, riding the 20 and 10 mile routes. “I ride for Bridges because it is a great cause and it is a very inspirational day,” he said. “I enjoy the routes, and meeting and riding with new people each year who share the same interests and support Bridges’ work of treating individuals with mental health disorders.”

Co-chairs for this year’s event are Bridges’ board members Karen and Dr. Frank Fortunati. Karen Fortunati’s young adult novel, The Weight of Zero, won the Connecticut Book Award and is about a young woman’s struggle to accept a mental illness diagnosis. The story of hope portrays the impact of a strong support network. According to Karen, “Frank and I are thrilled to continue this critical mission here in our hometown of promoting mental health care and reducing the prejudice that often surrounds mental health and addiction issues.”

Frank Fortunati is the vice chief of psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital and medical director of Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital. He is also an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School. Most of his career has been devoted to the treatment of adolescents and young adults struggling with a wide range of behavioral health conditions.

“Suicide rates have increased 30% across the country between 2000 and 2016, and are now the 10th leading cause of death,” he said. “Worse than that, suicide is now the second leading cause of death in those between age 10 and 34. That is an absolute crisis.”

“Effective mental health treatment must be provided early and locally for us to reverse this trend,” he said, adding, “Large hospital systems cannot reverse this trend alone. We must do everything we can to support community based mental health programs, like Bridges.”

The event’s major sponsors include The Milford Bank, Barrett Communications and Subway Franchise Headquarters.

To register or for more information, visit bridgesct.org. To sponsor the event, call Marcy Hotchkiss at 203-878-6365, extension 359.