ST. PETERSBURG — An event that normally talks about the community wants to talk with the community.
The Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL), in collaboration with Connect 4 Families, Deuces Live, Department of Children and Families –System of Care, will hold a mental health conference from Oct. 21-23 at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum, located at 2240 9th Ave. S.
During the “ROAR – Our Voices Heard – Mental Health Matters” conference, community members, clients, clergy and clinicians will gather to see and hear the real issues affecting those with mental health illnesses.
The conference’s mission is to remove the distinction between mental illnesses and physical illnesses, raise awareness, and educate residents and community supporters about mental health illnesses and interventions.
“I’ve noticed that when people talk about mental health issues, voices get softer; people almost start whispering to ask for help,” explained LaDonna Butler, PCUL health program coordinator.
Butler wants people to roar. To make themselves heard and to be the voice for others who cannot speak up for themselves.
“The fact is that many people in this country are fighting to put one foot in front of the other just to make it through the day. And often they don’t ask for help because they’re worried about how it will look,” Michelle Obama stated last year at a mental health event in Washington, D.C.
She continued, “At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg, or your brain, it’s still an illness and there should be no distinction.”
Traditionally, conferences such as ROAR have taken place away from the community, where the attendees speak about what needs to be done to help from an outside point of view, but as a community, client, clergy and clinician integrated event, this will be the first of its kind in St. Petersburg, according to Butler.
“This paradigm shift from “we know what’s best for you,” to a more healing, more honorable and more respectful approach, where we bring the individual in as an equal partner,” will make the conference different and successful according to Renee Ristow, former Department of Children and Families, children mental health system for care coordinator, and current clinician and volunteer for the event.
“We want to hear the consumer’s voice,” said Ristow. “How do we best serve you?”
Both Butler and Ristow are most excited to hold this event in the heart of St. Petersburg, on the Deuces, inviting the community to have their voices heard, to share their stories and to provide the space and environment to have fun.
The event will consist of 16 speakers, a community celebration, a drum circle and children’s art activities at Gallerie 909, movie screenings and discussions at The Royal Theater, community workshops, health screenings, access to community resources and more.
Some of the confirmed speakers/panelists include Representative Kathleen Peters, Representative Darryl Rouson, Mayor Rick Kriseman, Dr. Richard Horowitz, Rev. Troy Adams, Margo Fleisher, Summer Perez, Dr. Qaisimah Boston, Brandy Walker, Tonicia Freeman-Foster, Ed.D., Dr. Sandra Braham, Barbara Daire and Deputy John Patrick.
“To be together with CEOs and residents and to connect music, art, and cinema with mental illness support issues will be quite the experience,” said Butler.
“There are so many strengths within mid-county and the entire community,” recognized Butler. “The people have been able to survive some of the most devastating and traumatic losses and they’ve been able to remain resilient.
The specific purposes of the event are to highlight mental health strength and resiliency factors embedded within communities, share best practices and resources in building and supporting a culture of health, and to increase cultural competence and responsiveness of practitioners.
An additional goal will be to bring together clergy and clinicians to reduce stigmas, miscommunications and build trust over mental health issues.
“Historically, there was a misunderstanding over what mental health was, there was this mystery of mental health, and clergy, who tend to be protective of their parishioners, were unaware on how to navigate mental health,” said Butler. “There is a need for clergy to understand mental health diseases and intervention techniques and for clinicians to understand the role of spirituality within healing.”
Ristow agreed, “For many, many years there have been challenges and barriers on how clergy view mental health… There is a growing understanding that there needs to be faith based integration and open dialogue when creating a holistic, individualized treatment.”