May is Mental Health Awareness Month

“July 2, 2014 was my day. That was the day I was going to kill myself,” said Leah Suarez.

“It’s difficult to stand up and say that,” she told the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners at its May 9 meeting. She shared her own story because she wants our community to understand how important mental health is to each individual child and family.

Even with her education and local contacts, “on that day I had a difficult time finding help,” she said. “I had a much more difficult time asking for help.”

Mrs. Suarez was at the commission meeting for the proclamation of May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental health is a topic that is not talked about until something bad happens, she continued. She encouraged community members to paint their thumbnails green in honor of mental health month. Paint your thumbnail green to start a conversation, she said.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken
Okeechobee County Commissioners (left to right) Brad Goodbread, Kelly Owens, Terry Burroughs and Bryant Culpepper accepted the challenge to pain their thumbnails green in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said parents may know something is wrong with a child but not address it. The hardest thing as a parent may be to acknowledge there are issues with your own child, she said.

Tiara Weethee, of Suncoast Mental Health, said Suncoast started by serving the mental health needs of children and now serves children, adults and families.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said the county has a mental health court, and that he has been working with County Judge William Wallace to also start a veterans court.

He said the National Association of Counties is promoting mental health court programs. The jail staff is using tools provided by these programs to identify those in the jail who have mental health issues.

“Rather them being in jail, we would like to see them get help and be productive members of our society,” he said.

In other business, the county proclaimed the month of May also as Foster Care Month.

“It’s poignant today that you have two proclamations on mental health and foster care,” said Pat McCoy, who is on the board of directors for Communities Connected for Kids. She said those issues, as well as the issues of substance abuse and homelessness, are connected.

Many children in foster care come from families affected by mental health and substance abuse, she explained.

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