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'You're not alone': Fun walk in Orangeburg puts focus on mental health

Times & Democrat - 5/24/2024

May 24—Family Health Centers Inc. is working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in many ways, such as hosting a fun walk in Edisto Memorial Gardens.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, with officials touting it as a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues. It also offers an opportunity to direct people to available community resources.

"We are certainly thankful for all who came out to support Family Health Center's efforts to make a difference in the community. As we walk, we hope that this will help to build awareness and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health illness that keeps people from seeking help," FHC Interim Executive Director Doris Williams-Haigler said.

FHC officials and other community members converged upon the Edisto Memorial Gardens for the Move for Mental Health Awareness Fun Walk on May 17.

"Family Health Center's goal is to educate the community at large about mental health issues and provide support to help reduce stigmas, as well as to provide resources to those that need them," she said.

Williams-Haigler continued, "We're trying to break those stigmas down so that people will be comfortable with coming forward and getting the help that they need. In doing that, we have to educate. Of course, we also provide quality health care to anyone that needs it, including primary care and dental."

Free blood pressure and glucose checks were administered during the event, which also featured free refreshments and food bags. Well Care, South Carolina Legal Services, the Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, The Courage Center and the S.C. Department of Mental Health were among the agencies that set up informational booths at the event.

Orangeburg City Councilwoman Liz Zimmerman Keitt presented FHC with a proclamation recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

"We're asking everyone to join in for the awareness of mental health. Talk to people. Let people know if you're suffering. Communication is the best thing when it comes to working with mental health," Keitt said.

Michelle Evans is the director of behavioral health services at the FHC. She said individual assessments are given to anyone seeking services.

"That may be someone coming in with grief and loss issues. It could be someone coming in with a saddened mood, which could be a symptom of depression, or either someone worrying too much, a symptom of anxiety. With the initial assessment, we're able to figure out those symptoms and come up with a diagnosis," Evans said.

She continued, "All of us are licensed therapists who are on my team. We're able to come up with a diagnosis, and with that we take a client-centered approach to their treatment plan. So they create their treatment plan. Then we go from there working with them on their goals."

Evans said patients have to, "really advocate for themselves and want to get help."

"We can help them on that stretch. We can help those who are willing to help themselves," she said.

Fun walks are a way to educate the community that it's OK to seek necessary treatment for mental health issues, Evans said.

"An event like this really helps the buy-in because when people see and hear people say, 'Oh, I'm going to this walk,' or 'I'm going to get resources or support,' then they feel like, 'Oh, if this person can do it, I can do it, too.' You're not alone — that's the big message and takeaway," Evans said.

St. Matthews resident Mary Berry, who has worked as a mental health counselor, was one of the community members who participated in the walk.

She said the event was a good way to let the community know that mental health issues should not be ignored but addressed.

"At least they'll start to have some kind of understanding to not treat it as a stigma, but to treat it as a mental illness and that people really need to get therapy. Get some help, talk to somebody. Pick up that phone. No matter how heavy it is, pick it up," Berry said.

Individuals seeking services, including behavioral health services, at the FHC can call 803-531-6900.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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