Pastor runs all night, raising money and awareness for mental health

JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Tuesday night, a local pastor laced up his running shoes to raise the alarm on mental health.

Through darkness and rain, he ran -- for miles -- hoping to help others push through their darkest hours.

"My strategy in all of this is, I'm just Forrest Gump-ing it man, I'm just running," Paul Burgess said.

For the Johnston County native, the darkest night of the year is a reminder of silent suffering in darkness -- something many struggling with mental health experience.

"It's common to so many people ... yet it's something that we don't feel comfortable with that," Burgess said.

Especially during the holidays. So, while some were celebrating with family and friends, Paul was running.

"People are grieving during this time; the days are shorter and the nights are longer, there's more darkness, and so that can compound a lot of mental health struggles that folks have," he said.

From sunset to sunrise, his feet pounded the pavement, raising money to raise awareness.

He's taking a stance and letting those suffering know they are not alone. Along the way, he stopped by former churches he pastored in Johnston County and reflected on his own journey and those who have impacted his life.

"I've been really inspired by the people who carry these burdens but just keep going, man," he said.

Friends and family along the path cheered him on through every step and every mile, some even leaving voice messages of encouragement as he trekked through the night.

He raised more than $7,700 on his GoFundMe for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Fourteen hours and 62 miles later, the sun rose again - a new day - as Burgess arrived home to his biggest fans, his wife and two boys.

"No matter the weather, no matter how cold it is, the only option is to keep going," Burgess said. "And you can do it."

In January, Burgess will be pastoring at University Baptist Church in Chapel Hill.

Reporting and video by ABC11 photojournalist Chris Hemric.
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