Forum gives open look at mental illness in community

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook writer

Debra Horton wasn’t bragging. She simply wanted to make a point about mental illness.
“I have a bachelor (degree) in social work. I have a master’s in social work,” Horton said, beaming with a broad smile. “I have been told that I am the first student to graduate from Florida State University’s College of Social Work with two specialties. Yes, I did all of that.”

Then, the tall lady spread both arms shoulder high, stared down the audience inside a building at the Fairgrounds, and made a surprising announcement.

“This is what mental illness looks like,” she said.

Horton’s openness about her struggles with mental illness was one of many stories that were shared during a community-wide conversation on the topic. Mothers talked about their children who have been detained by the Baker Act, which allows trained physicians to house them for up to 72 hours. At least one parent admitted that her struggle with three mentally ill children has driven her to becoming an awareness advocate.

The highly informal event was organized by Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor, who recently went public with his suspicion that his son, Jordan, might have mental issues. At the time, Proctor suggested that some form of mental illness might have affected his son’s decision-making when he was arrested at separate times on robbery and marijuana possession charges.

Several professionals in the mental health field shared sources for information and how to get assistance. But Dr. Jay Reeves, president/CEO of Apalachee Center, seemed to capture the nearly-packed room the most.

The crowd reacted with applauds of approval when Reeves gave out his direct phone number and promised to speak personally with anyone who calls.

Mental health is too serious to push under the rug, Proctor said. There is plenty of statistics that back up his statement.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported in 2010 that 19.9 percent of adults in the U.S. reported having a mental health condition that year.

“This event continued to remind us that a mental illness is a national epidemic and should be treated and funded like other declared epidemics,” said Dianne Williams Cox, a candidate for the House seat 8. “Many factors allow society to hide behind masks, but we need to remove the masks and get help.”

Another study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that African Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.

That same study also reported that among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5 percent—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.

Shirley Baker can relate to the co-occurring scenario, although it’s not substance abuse related. Her 17-years-old daughter was first diagnosed in 2012 with multiple forms of mental illness. Her case is so chronic that the Baker Act has been enforced at least 30 times to get her help, Baker said. Some of those cases have lasted as long as a week, she said.

Reeves and state representative Alan Williams offered to assist Baker, who said her daughter was released from a Baker Act detention just hours before she came to the meeting.

“I believe the God that I serve has guided my steps to be here,” said Baker, while holding Pamela Andrews’ hand. “It was intended for me to be here”

Andrews, a mother of three mentally ill children with multiple forms of disorder, said she regularly travels around the state to bring awareness to the mental health struggles that she and other parents endure.

“It is my will to educate the community,” Andrews said, tears welling up in her eyes.
With as many known cases in the community, Proctor questioned why there isn’t a government-funded place for the mentally ill to find a bed. He lamented how football fans have a place to celebrate but there is no housing for people with mental health issues.

“We’ve got to shape the agenda and to have a place to go.” Proctor said. “We’ve got to have new beds for people and not for them to be wandering around on Tennessee Street in the middle of the road.”

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