Okay to Say Community Launch set for May 16

Okay to Say Community Launch set for May 16

Leaders of a new initiative in Southeast Texas hope to make people feel comfortable about coming out about their mental health problems.

The new campaign lets people know that’s it’s OK to talk about these problems and that they are not alone in their daily struggles.

Looking to bring together mental health organizations and community leaders from throughout the area for a common cause, Regina Rogers, founder of the Beaumont cancer-fighting nonprofit the Gift of Life, and Kim Phelan, local attorney and wife of Texas state Rep. Dade Phelan, have teamed up with Dallas-based Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) to bring the Okay to Say mental health campaign to Beaumont and surrounding areas, forming what Rogers and Phelan are calling the Behavioral and Mental Health Consortium of Southeast Texas.

Plans are in place for an Okay to Say community launch Tuesday, May 16, at 11 a.m. at the Event Centre in Beaumont. The 30-minute rally is free and open to the public. The short program will include remarks from Dr. Andy Keller, president and CEO of the MMHPI, messages of hope and support from community leaders, and a proclamation read by Mayor Becky Ames recognizing May 16 as Mental Health Awareness Day in Southeast Texas.

“This is a celebration of the community coming together to say it is OK to talk openly about mental illness,” said Kanani Quijano, director of community affaisr for MMHPI. “It’s important to let others know they are not alone. Treatment is available, and treatment works when you can stick to it. It’s easier to stick to treatment when you have hope, when you know recovery is possible, and when you know you’re not alone.”

“No tickets are necessary,” Phelan added. “We’re inviting the community to show up to show their support for the message.”

According to Phelan, area resource guides will be available at the event and will include information on local mental health treatment facilities as well as information on different mental illnesses.

“We’re trying right now to make it more regional, to reach out to our partners in Orange County and other parts of Jefferson County besides Beaumont to make sure we have everyone covered,” she said. “It’s just the beginning of what we hope will grow into a more comprehensive and more regional guide. As we learn more from each other, we will add more information.”

What is Okay to Say?

“Okay to Say is basically a public awareness campaign,” said Quijano. “The main message we want to get across to people is that most mental illnesses are treatable, and we want to offer a message of hope and recovery to Texans and their families.”

The goal of Okay to Say is to change the conversation and perceptions around mental illness, which ultimately can lead to:

• Growing understanding, advocacy and support for those with mental illness

• Improving access to community services for diagnosis and treatment

• Accelerating progress in the quality and delivery of mental health care.

According to MMHPI statistics, 9 out of 10 Texans think it’s harder to talk about mental health rather than physical issues, 1 in 5 of mental health patients nationally quit treatment prematurely and 2 out of 3 people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment. Eighty-eight percent of Texans agree that stigma surrounding mental health issues needs to be removed, and 3 out of 4 agree that more education would make them feel more confident about discussing mental illness.

“I think it shows people that mental illness has no boundaries,” Quijano said. “It doesn’t matter about your socio-economic background, how you grew up. It doesn’t matter about race, ethnicity. Mental illness affects everybody.”

The consortium met for the first time March 9 at Broussard’s Centré in Beaumont, where civic, business, and community leaders and health care professionals, social workers, law enforcement officers and educators all converged to hear the announcement of the initiative.

Rogers emphasized, “We must launch this campaign in May in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month. We cannot wait but have to take ownership of the mental health problems in our region by inviting and welcoming all partners through diversity and inclusiveness.”

In its first year, Okay to Say has been launched in four communities — Amarillo, Dallas, Austin, and Sherman/Denison and has over 70 partners statewide and from every county in Texas with several other launches and events planned for 2017, Quijano said.

Goals of the Southeast Texas campaign have included creating an area resource guide, recruiting partners, and holding an Okay to Say event to officially launch the initiative locally.

Currently, Okay to Say is recruiting partners to come on board with the campaign and make testimonial videos as well as support videos letting people know it’s okay to talk about their struggles with mental illness.

Email questions about the campaign to mhasetx [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also visit okaytosay.org to learn more.