Late last month, I had the opportunity to hear personal stories of healing and recovery as a part of the annual Community Behavioral Health Conference. The event showcases speakers and experts on the topic of mental illness with ties back to Texoma.

The conference is one of the events that I always preemptively ask to cover and has quickly become one of my regular assignments. I’ve always enjoyed attending it, not only because I find the topic fascinating, but I also feel mental health is a topic that doesn’t always get the attention and focus that it should.

Even today in 2020, the topic of mental health is still treated as taboo in our culture: something that is handled behind closed doors, away from prying eyes and with hushed voices. It isn’t something that it is often spoken about freely, lest people judge you for it.

If our society was as open about it as it is on other illnesses with which mental health issues should be compared, I think a lot of people would find that it is far more common than most would believe. Who hasn’t experienced, or known someone that has had, depression at some point in life? What about an addiction or substance abuse? They all lead back to mental health.

One of the segments I enjoy the most each year at the conference is what organizers have called, “Our Own Backyard,” which highlights local stories of people in our own community and their experiences with mental illness.

Not only does this portion give me the opportunity to stretch my literary legs as a storyteller, but it also brings a much needed connection to the topic of mental illness. It puts a face on a topic that seems foreign or taboo to many people. This isn’t someone you will never meet. This is the person you see at the grocery store or the person sitting next to you at church could be quietly dealing with something. It could be your sister, your brother.

By being able to put a face with it, we as a culture can stop looking at this like an impersonal, distant issue. It has a name, a face, and we likely see it more often than we know.