Rachel Adame was kneeling in her flowerbed when she realized the pain, emptiness and invisibility she felt was depression.
“It didn’t occur to me that I would have depression,” she said. “(I thought) that’s somebody that cries a lot, they’re very sad ... It just wasn’t me, so it never entered my mind that maybe that’s what was wrong.”
Adame recalled that day from almost a decade ago while sitting in Liberty Coffee Haus, the coffee shop she co-owns with her husband. Adame spoke to a crowd of several dozen people Thursday night, joining other Victoria residents who spoke about their experiences with mental illness and their paths to find improved well-being. The event was hosted by Be Well Victoria, a coalition that’s working to address the underlying factors that affect the mental health of Victoria residents.
Alicia Garza spoke about her yearslong struggle to combat depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Garza’s pain started when she was in high school, when she began sleeping through the school day and missed months of class. After a bad reaction to an antidepressant, Garza started to self-medicate, which led to more than a decade of drug and alcohol abuse.
Garza found little value in her life and often thought that her two children or her husband would be fine without her if she was gone.
“I would pretend that everything was OK, and I did this for 13 years,” Garza said. “Nobody knew what was going on because I was raised to fake it till you make it.”
Garza eventually sought treatment and counseling; she now lives with her diagnoses with the support of loved ones, she said.
Others who spoke included Sherrae Brissett, Annette Yancey and David Gibson. Kayla Gutierrez, a community health worker with Be Well Victoria, talked about grappling with depression and anxiety while working full-time and attending school.
The speakers shared some of the most difficult moments of their lives and described the confusion and pain of feeling alone and hopeless. Mental illness is increasingly being addressed as a public health issue by communities after decades as a private and rarely discussed epidemic. Experts say the factors that contribute to mental illness are complex and not easily defined, but most data indicates mental illnesses like depression are on the rise in the U.S. Suicides are on the rise throughout the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The event included heart-wrenching stories about abuse, violence, drug and alcohol addiction and self-harm as well as stories about how mental illness turned everyday events and struggles into intensely painful experiences for those grappling with diagnoses.
But attendees also spoke about the ways they found help: through medication, through faith, through the support of friends and family.
“There’s help the way that you need help,” Yancey said. “If one way doesn’t work, then you try another.”
At the end of the discussion, community members shared resources and advice for those seeking help for themselves or their loved ones.
Gutierrez, the community health worker for Be Well, is starting a mental health recovery support group that will meet for the first time Thursday. The peer-led support group is part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and provides a free and confidential support group for people to talk about their recovery process.
Community health workers with Be Well said they wanted to use the testimonies as a way to decrease stigma around mental illness and to serve as the start of a larger conversation about mental health in Victoria. The event also recognized May as Mental Health Awareness Month, and the speakers encouraged everyone to begin a more open dialogue their mental and emotional health.