Our community has spent years waking up to the challenges that people with mental illnesses face – the barriers to treatment, inadequate care in schools and in the criminal justice system, the weight of solitude when it seems like no one can understand what you’re going through.

We’ve become aware that we have a serious problem. And now, we’re working to make things right.

Thursday, the National Alliance on Mental Illness planted its flag in Victoria as a newly formed peer support group held its first meeting, allowing residents with mental illnesses to face their struggles together, perhaps for the first time. The group was started by Kayla Gutierrez, a University of Houston-Victoria graduate who, after learning firsthand about the importance of community in mental healing, is bringing that gift to others as a community health worker with Be Well Victoria.

The new peer support group is just one of several recent developments toward improved mental health, along with the Be Well initiative itself, which aims to boost residents’ physical and mental wellness with solutions that fit our community’s needs. Here’s a look at some of the good news:

  • Be Well partnered with Liberty Coffee Haus for an open mic event that invited residents to share their experiences with mental illness. Too many people with mental illnesses suffer in silence, and talking about the problem can be an important step toward healing.
  • Be Well has also partnered with Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church to host a series of seminars on youth mental health. The series has helped young people and their parents find fellowship and learn to talk more openly about the challenges that many teens face.
  • Thanks to an agreement with local psychiatrist Dr. Kourtne Roberts, the Victoria County Jail will soon begin providing in-house mental health treatment. The move improves inmates’ access to care as Roberts will be able to spend more time with patients than the current provider and will be only a phone call away if need be.
  • As part of its conversation series bringing residents together across the political divide, Center for Peace Victoria hosted a discussion on mental health at Mumphord’s BBQ. Residents demonstrated that regardless of political views, mental health is an issue that affects us all and must be addressed by working together.

Victoria is reinventing itself as a community that not only takes mental illness seriously but is fighting to turn the tide. We need to continue working to identify and address needs in our community, in our social circles and in ourselves. It’s OK not to be OK, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can begin to heal.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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