Clouds parted at Main Plaza on Friday as a sea of people in green flooded the courtyard in front of the San Fernando Cathedral in support of World Mental Health Day.
Bexar County hosted a resource fair at the plaza where staff and volunteers wearing green T-shirts handed out brochures and flyers to attendees, intending to educate people about mental illness and the negative stigmas attached to those who suffer from the conditions.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the groups with a booth at the resource fair, one in five adults, or about 43.7 million people, in the United States suffer from mental illness in a given year. Of those people, 41% received mental health services in the past year, however African Americans and Latinos used mental health services at about one-half the rate of their white counterparts. Those living with mental illness are at an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions, and adults living with serious mental illness, about one in 25 people, die about 25 years earlier than those without a mental illness.
San Antonio, “Military City USA,” is home to a significant number of military personnel, their families, and veterans. Each day, an estimated 18-22 veterans commit suicide, many of whom suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Prect. 4) hopes to become more of an influential figure for those suffering from mental illness, especially for minorities who make up 76% of Bexar County.
“These problems are partially due to a lack of insurance coverage, a tendency to attribute mental health problems to religious beliefs, and a general lack of access to receptive and culturally compatible providers,” Calvert said.
Many people who suffer from mental illness are ashamed of their condition, which keeps them from reaching out for help. World Mental Health Day aims to reduce the shame behind mental illness, and instead treat it as any other disease like diabetes or cancer.
“(Negative stigmas) create discrimination in jobs, education, housing, and even medical care,” Calvert said, adding that those with mental health problems are one of the most socially excluded groups.
In May, Bexar County purchased 51.5 acres of land adjacent to Randolph Air Force Base for $3.4 million. Calvert plans to open a mental health facility on that plot of land at 1604 and Rocket Lane.
“Many of the current mental health centers are at capacity with the amount of patients they can see on a daily basis,” he said.
Mental illness can affect anyone. The middle school student cutting his or her wrists, the high school student battling social anxiety, the depressed college student fighting to wake up in the morning to make it to class, or the veteran who spent years in combat and now suffers from PTSD.
“We need to let people know who are suffering with mental illness that they are not alone,” Sen. Jose Menendez said.
Menendez stressed that like those with physical ailments, people suffering from mental illness should be addressed with compassion, not a blind eye.
“We need to be taking out in the open about this issue,” he said. “We don’t need to be whispering about it.”
According to Menendez, nearly one million children have experienced mental health issues in Texas.
“I truly believe that how we choose to address this problem is how we will be judged by our next generation,” he said.
Now is the time to reach out to community resources including Nix Health, the Health Collaborative, Clarity Child Guidance Center, San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, the Center for Health Care Services, Laurel Ridge Treatment Center and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.
*Top image: Attendees held green flags above their head in support of remembering those who suffer from mental illness. Photo by Joan Vinson.