Vinton racetrack fights stigma, puts spotlight on mental health

Published: Jul. 23, 2023 at 10:46 PM CDT
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VINTON, Iowa (KCRG) - Racing is so much a part of Leah Wroten’s life that she got a race car for her wedding gift.

Along with being a driver, Wroten is also a nurse at the Independence Mental Health Institute. “I’ve seen how [mental illness] impacts people from—I’ve had kids the ages of seven years old with dealing with mental illness, all the way up into, you know, their seventies,” said Wroten.

Wroten knows from her work how anyone can struggle with mental health, and she also knows how these struggles are stigmatized.

“People just don’t understand sometimes how difficult mental illness can be,” she added. “It’s very difficult because you can’t see it. People don’t understand it. And it’s not just an easy fix.”

To put the spotlight on mental health struggles and the stigma that surrounds them, Wroten organized a special Mental Health Awareness Night at the Benton County Speedway. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Linn County was there, and in between warm-ups and when the races began, a social worker and Foundation 2 representative shared details on services in the area, including the 988 hotline.

A racetrack may seem like an arbitrary place to spotlight something like mental health, but it’s Wroten’s second home, and she knew she was not the only one to feel that way.

“I think at the races, we just get all types of people.”

To Wroten, the track was the perfect place to meet people where they are and let them know that—whether it’s anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide—these struggles are not unnatural or embarrassing.

“To have people understand that there are people out there to help them, there are’s really important to me,” said Wroten.