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Mental Health Wellness Fair Coming to South Side

hospital building with many windows
Tom Flanigan

There are many people talking about the need for more accessible mental health care. As part of that larger discussion, Mental Health Council of the Big Bend will present a very special kind of public health fair next Tuesday (May 29) in hopes of improving that accessibility.

Many low-income minority neighborhoods already have their share of problems, admitted Dr. Fran Close, with the Florida A&M College of Pharmacy and Institute for Public Health. But Close said there’s one problem in particular that few in those neighborhoods even want to think, much less talk about.

“It’s taboo to talk about mental health and we really want to smash that myth of it’s something bad or something embarrassing.”

Close is part of the Mental Health Council of the Big Bend. She explained the Council has planned to take the whole issue of mental health very public in the middle of Tallahassee’s South Side, an area where denial runs long and deep.

“I’m just hopeful that this is the first of many, many steps in that area that we’re able to put it out there for people to be comfortable talking about it and talking about, not just people in their family but also themselves,” she elaborated. “I think sometimes, especially when you’re doing everything for everyone else, you forget that you may be going through some stressors that may impact your overall mental health, too.”

Dr. Close said this is particularly the case for those whose lives are constantly assailed by situations not of their making.

“They feel like they have no control over their lives, so I’m hoping this fair will at least begin the conversation with these groups on the South Side.”

Close’s hope was echoed by another Mental Health Council member, Kelli Mercer from Capital Regional Medical Center.

“This fair just overall will hopefully reduce some of that stigma and the committee – the Mental Health Council – will hopefully reduce the stigma overall for the whole community as well. Let’s talk about this; let’s get the help that we need and let’s teach others to get the help that they need and that it’s okay to do it,” Mercer said.

As to the “fair” both she and Close mentioned, Council Member Karen Kramer with Magellan Complete Care said it’s entitled “Be Kind to Your Mind.”

“(It’s) a wellness fair specifically on mental health that’s going to be at the North Florida Fairgrounds on Tuesday, May 29th from 5 until 8 p.m. and the purpose of this is to really educate the community on mental health resources and let them know what’s out there.”

But, insisted Kramer, it won’t only be a bunch of information booths loaded with brochures.

“We’re going to have free food and some different activities for children that come with their families and we’re going to have different tables with mental health resource information for those who come and participate. So we’re really excited about it and I think it will be an impactful event for the South Side area.”

Of course, in any situation where any kind of service or initiative is proposed for any neighborhood, a top-down approach seldom works. So Jay Reeve, CEO of the Apalachee Center, says the Council made every effort to ensure this is something the area not only needs, but also wants.

“We sat down with the South Side/Frenchtown Alliance several months ago and that’s what we heard clearly from the community that folks need to know where the resources are and if the resources are there consistently, people will come and get the help they need. But I think this is the way that you start that by having a community conversation,” Reeve said.

He added that this effort is the first-of its kind in the area and the beginning of what organizers hope is a sustained campaign to make conversation about mental health issues more common and comfortable.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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