Nearly 100 people rallied Wednesday afternoon on the south steps of the Texas Capitol as part of Mental Health Day, a day for advocates to push for mental health policy changes.
Hosted by the Texas Mental Illness Awareness Coalition, the all-day event began at the Schmidt-Jones Family Life Center with an issue briefing and advocacy training for attendees, who represented mental health groups and advocates from across the state. Holding posters reading “#StigmaFree,” “All Minds Matter” and “I Will Listen,” attendees then met at the Capitol and listened to guest speakers from the Texas Legislature and the advocacy groups that make up Texas MIAC.
Guest speakers addressed issues such as mental health rates among children, the lack of mental health care among Texas counties and the importance of advocacy groups in lowering the stigmas surrounding mental health.
“We’re going to do this — we’re going to change the system in a way that works for people with persistent mental illness,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the early 1990s. “What I hope is to be an inspiration to people, so they can know they can manage their illness and do what you want to do. It’s good to have champions of mental illness in the Legislature, to serve and to make sure we don’t stop.”
Kimberly Allen, an advocate with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, one of the advocacy groups under Texas MIAC, spoke about her mental health journey and struggle with substance abuse.
“I am an ex-administrator of a treatment center, and I have seen enough denial of health care and I’ve seen enough of people falling through the gaps of health care,” Allen said. “We don’t wake up and say ‘I hope I grow up with mental illness.’ This is who we are and I have no shame in it. It is so important that we talk to everyone for the people who aren’t here, for the people who didn’t make it … and died by suicide. With treatment and care, we can keep moving.”
After the rally, attendees had an opportunity to speak with members of the Texas Legislature, where many spoke out on issues highlighted during the rally, including increasing access to health care that focuses on prevention and recovery strategies, eliminating barriers to mental health and substance abuse care and expanding the mental health and substance use disorder workforce.
Paula Nunez attended the rally representing Crosspoint Inc., a San Antonio-based nonprofit organization that works to provide residential rehabilitation services to veterans and former federal inmates who struggle with mental health and substance abuse.
“We want to just (share stories) and touch their heart strings, and let (our legislators) know the reality of the issues at hand,” Nunez said.
Throughout the event, legislators and guest speakers discussed the importance of community involvement in the fight for improved mental health care resources.
“It’s important that we have advocates such as yourself coming to the Capitol,” said Rep. Joseph Moody, D-El Paso. “The phrase ‘end the stigma’ (around mental health) — you are that phrase in action, you are changing the dialogue. There’s no bill we can pass that can do work you’re doing with now. This is the session to do our part and make Texas a leader on mental health, and your work today is gonna make that a reality.”