The Alachua County Commission meeting declared May 2019 as “Mental Health Awareness Month” on Tuesday.
County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson presented the proclamation alongside eight mental health advocates from organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, otherwise known as NAMI; Meridian Behavioral Healthcare and the Alachua County Crisis Center.
Art Stockwell, 57, the board president of the Gainesville chapter of NAMI, thanked the commission for the contributions to the non-profit organization. It offers courses, support groups and outreach functions for those struggling with mental illness.
“The folks that have somebody helping them have a better chance of winning the best lives that they can,” he said. “[For] the ones that are on their own — of course, it’s far more difficult.”
A video about the crisis center, which featured volunteers and staff, was shown by Alachua County spokesperson Mark Sexton before the proclamation was later made by Hutchinson.
Ali Martinez, director of the center, said the center interacts with about 45,000 people from the community yearly through mobile outreach and counseling services. Volunteers of the Alachua County crisis line answer calls from people in distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Our incredible team of crisis line counselors are so proud to be able to provide that space and that compassion and that listening ear for people who are struggling,” Martinez said. “But I really urge the whole community to be that ear.”
Sexton said it’s unique for a government entity to fund a crisis center, and the county commission is keenly aware of the needs relating to mental health awareness and issues.
“We may be the only one in the country, but we're certainly — if not the only one — one of only a handful of government entities that have that as an in-house division of our community support services,” Sexton said. “We’re very proud about that.”
A mural painted on the 34th Street Wall in May 2017 in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month by local group AnARTists signifies the organization’s belief that “Art Heals.” One of the organization’s goals is to stop the stigma behind mental illness.