Physicians and Friends Find Healing and Purpose in The Ride for Mental Health

“The pervasive feeling shared by all is that regardless of your personal journey and experiences with mental health, you are not alone.”

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In 2017, when New York City attorney and avid cyclist Mac Dorris founded The Ride for Mental Health in New Paltz, New York, it was a way to find hope, healing, and purpose after the sudden and tragic loss of his son, Eric.

Riders at the 2022 Ride for Mental Health. Photo courtesy of the Ride for Mental Health.

At this year’s event in June, 464 riders, along with sponsors, volunteers, and virtual participants from around the world, helped push the total amount raised for mental health services over 6 years to more than $1 million.

The Ride for Mental Health delivered a check this year for $235,000—its largest so far—to McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and the nation’s No. 1-rated psychiatric hospital.

The Ride for Mental Health founder Mac Dorris and his wife, Ginny Dorris, with representatives of McLean Hospital holding a check recognizing $1 million in total contributions to McLean since 2017. Photo courtesy of the Ride for Mental Health.

In 5 years, the event has emerged as the premier cycling fundraiser in the United States exclusively benefiting mental health. Staged in New York’s picturesque Hudson Valley, the weekend ride is like an annual homecoming for a growing community of kindred spirits, many of whom have inspiring and moving stories. Among them once again this year were Drs. Justine Kent and Danielle Coppola. The 2 friends, former colleagues, and fellow physicians each have deeply personal motivations for participating.

Danielle Coppola, MD, and Justine Kent, MD. Photo courtesy of the Ride for Mental Health.

Psychiatrist Justine Kent, MD, of Skillman, New Jersey, is the sister-in-law of event founder Mac Dorris. Her nephew, Eric, suffered from BPD and other disorders and died at 21 years old from an accidental overdose while an outpatient at McLean. For her brother-in-law Mac, The Ride helped to light a path forward out of profound grief.

Kent works in clinical development for Merck, helping to bring drug therapies to market for the treatment of specific psychiatric disorders, and has been volunteering at The Ride since the inaugural event. She was joined this year by family members from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington.

“What stands out about The Ride for Mental Health is what a fun, happy occasion it is,” Kent said. “In addition to bringing families and friends together, it is a rare opportunity to have conversations about mental health in a positive and upbeat atmosphere, which adds to the feeling of connection and camaraderie.” Kent also remarked about how the event has grown, with fully supported rides of 50 and 100 miles, plus shorter routes of 25 miles and a 14-mile family fun ride.

Kent’s good friend, internist Danielle Coppola, MD, added that The Ride is uniquely meaningful for volunteers and riders alike. “The pervasive feeling shared by all is that regardless of your personal journey and experiences with mental health, you are not alone,” she said. “There is community, there is caring, and there is support.” Coppola, who currently works in immunology drug safety at Janssen R&D, a pharma division of Johnson & Johnson, participates in The Ride as both a volunteer and a rider. She is motivated both by her professional background and her family’s experiences with mental health.

Coppola has 2 sons in college, ages 19 and 20 years. One has experienced anxiety and the other, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Coppola herself once experienced a depressive episode, stemming from a sense of isolation in a difficult marriage, which worsened while she was pregnant during the 9/11 attack. She says that participating in The Ride, getting into nature, and making connections with others in a purpose-driven environment provides a healing and nurturing experience. An internist at heart, she is a firm believer that cyclists benefit holistically from participating, since physical, mental, and social well-being are so inextricably linked.

That spirit of hope, community and resilience has grown stronger in New Paltz each year, as more and more riders and volunteers gather to raise money for mental illness education, research, and treatment.

Participants receive a custom-designed Hincapie cycling jersey and all riders, volunteers, and sponsors are invited to enjoy a complementary barbecue dinner and live music on Saturday evening.

“Mac and his team have created a wonderful event that has grown each year,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean president and psychiatrist in chief. “We are deeply grateful to the Dorris family and all the riders and sponsors for their tremendous efforts.”

Registration for The Ride for Mental Health 2023, scheduled for June 24 to 25, is currently open at www.rideformentalhealth.org. Corporate and community organizations, teams, and individuals can participate, whether in person or virtually, and create their own fundraising pages. Sponsorships for 2023 are available and volunteer inquiries are welcome. To learn more, follow The Ride on Instagram, Facebook, and Strava.

Mr Upchurch is a public relations executive and journalist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. His work includes editorial support for nonprofit organizations including The Ride for Mental Health, Teen Cancer America, the V Foundation, the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation, and others.

Do you participate in a nonprofit organization and want to share your story? If so, write to us at PTEditor@MMHGroup.com.

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