More than 20 organizations, including local municipalities, law enforcement agencies, service groups and other partners, came together Wednesday to work toward improving local mental health care. The Behavioral Health Leadership Team aims to bring all segments of mental health care together to address all aspects of the issue.


Representatives with the team held an inauguration event Wednesday afternoon to introduce the new organization to the public and catch its members up on the initial goals for the collaboration. The group was formed through a partnership between the Texoma Health Foundation and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, based in Dallas.


“The key for us is to have every aspect of mental health get a seat at the table and to look at all parts of the problem,” THF President Michelle Lemming said.


Through this organization, Lemming and other mental health stakeholders hope to address the need for mental health services and care in the region as a united front rather than individual organizations. Lemming said previously there were conversations on how to address issues, including behavioral care, substance abuse and other needs, but they were limited in size and did not encompass the entire community.


“It is not that we need more meetings on this topic,” she said. “We need a better solution to sharing information.”


Through this collaborative effort, Lemming said she hoped to bring everyone together on the same page to discuss all aspects of mental health.


“You are here because you are a valued sector of mental health in this community and we are glad to have you,” THF Chairman Brett Graham said.


THF’s interest in mental health first grew about five years ago when the organization was looking at the various health-related needs within the region that were not fully met. From there, mental health became a priority for the organization, with grants provided to many programs aimed at improving access to mental health services in the region.


“Initially, the more questions we asked, the more questions we got,” Graham said. “That virtually became our first step.”


For the past year, these efforts have culminated in the “Convening of the Conveners;” a regular meeting of mental-health stakeholders. Through those meetings, the foundation for the leadership team was formed.


Other recent efforts by THF and partners include an initiative through the Meadows Foundation to increase awareness of mental health issues. The “Okay to Say” campaign’s goal is to start conversations about the topic of mental health and care.


As part of the campaign, THF provided statistics on mental health. In Texas, about 75 percent of people know a close friend or family member with mental health issues. However, 90 percent of people said it is easier to talk about physical health issues than mental health issues.


“There is still a stigma around mental health,” Gail Utter, representing Newco and the leadership team, said Wednesday. “It is better than it was 10 years ago, but it is still there.”


As part of the initial efforts with the team, Lemming said THF and Meadows have conducted surveys on mental health with local employers. Lacrica Olson, local systems manager for Meadows, said this is a new approach for addressing mental health that has yet to be used by similar organizations.


“We recognize that employers have an important role in the community,” Lemming said. “People often feel they will be criticized at work or at school if they say they have a mental health issue.”


Moving forward, Lemming said the first goal would be to form a list of priorities. She noted that she is uncertain how many priority focuses the organization will start with, as the members have yet to discuss the topic.