Local mental health consortium looks to launch ‘Okay to Say’ initiative

Kim Phelan (pictured) and Regina Rogers are spearheading a mental health initiat

Civic, business, and community leaders and health care professionals, social workers, law enforcement officers, and educators all converged at Broussard’s Centre’ Thursday, March 9 for the announcement of a new mental health initiative being spearheaded by Gift of Life founder Regina Rogers and Kim Phelan. 

Phelan, a solo practitioner attorney and wife of Texas Congressman Dade Phelan, and Rogers have formed the Behavioral and Mental Health Consortium of Southeast Texas and teamed up with Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, a Dallas-based non-profit organization that helps identify and encourage the implementation of mental health policies and practices to enable Texans to get help when and where they need it. Together, the group is looking to launch the “Okay to Say” campaign in Southeast Texas to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourage people to open up about mental health issues and seek treatment.

Okay to Say was created by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and its partners to increase public awareness that most mental illnesses are treatable and to offer messages of hope and recovery to Texans and their families. Rogers learned about the program while attending a meeting with Meadows last year, she said.

“Phil Ritter, COO for the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, came and expressed a tremendous interest in Southeast Texas,” Rogers said. “We went away from that meeting very inspired, but didn’t really form any kind of coalition. Shortly thereafter, I learned that the Mental Health Association closed its doors in Southeast Texas. That was an organization that my mother …worked very hard and diligently to resurrect … and made it a reality for about 30 years. … In the back of my head, I kept thinking we need to resurrect this. … I got an email from (the Meadows) that said they were having a conference in Austin and gathering people from around the region that had a likeminded focus. I jumped at the opportunity, attended the first week of December, and brought several people with me. … It was a phenomenal conference. We learned so much and were so motivated and inspired from what we learned and at the opportunity for collaboration.

“When I learned about the Okay to Say campaign, I said we must do this in Southeast Texas,” Rogers continued. “We set an objective to launch a campaign in Southeast Texas during mental awareness month, which is May.” 

Speaking to law enforcement officials in attendance such as Beaumont Police Chief Jimmy Singletary and newly-elected Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens as well as business representatives such as Verna Rutherford, of Port Arthur’s Motiva refinery, among many other important attendees, Rogers said it would take leaders from all sectors to make the initiative successful. 

“We’re here to focus on what we can do to make this happen,” she said. “We can’t wait for someone else to solve this crisis. We’ve got to be the ones to take ownership of the problems, unite to identify our needs, and work together to find positive solutions. ”

Kinani Quijano, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute’s director of communications, said the campaign is all about providing hope.

“The ultimate goal of Okay to Say is to increase public awareness that most mental illnesses are treatable and to offer up a message of hope and recovery to our communities and families,” Quijano said, who stressed the Meadows Institute does not charge for its services.

The Behavioral & Mental Health Consortium of Southeast Texas plans to meet again on Thursday, April 6 to provide more details about the initiative, which includes creating a mental health area resource guide and planning an Okay to Say community workshop in May.

The consortium is looking for partners to help make the mental health initiative more successful. Please contact Lisa Briggs at lisbriggs1 [at] gmail [dot] com or call (409) 719-2776 for more information. You can also visit www.okaytosay.org.

“We need as many people as we can being a part of the consortium,” Phelan said. “The next steps are for Okay to Say to do testimonial or support videos. The videos will be used in the media launch … and then we will hopefully follow up with the one-day workshop. We will discuss amongst each other in break-out groups what everyone can bring to the table and share ideas. There’s no mental health association to guide this. This is what the consortium is for. Okay to Say will not be as successful without the consortium and the consortium won’t be as successful without Okay to Say. We’re partnering together with the hope of the message being a lasting movement in this community.”