Hidden illness: Texoma recognizes Mental Health Awareness month

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The Texoma Community Center recently held an art contest and asked area artists to depict what mental health looks like to them. These pieces of art will be used in a poster campaign throughout Mental Health Awareness month.

There are many small components that go into maintaining proper health ranging from fitness to nutrition. Throughout the month of May, counselors, therapists and other healthcare providers will work to raise awareness of another key component of proper health that often goes unnoticed.

Since 1949, the United States has recognized May as Mental Health Awareness month in an effort to increase awareness of issues and dispel any myths of misconceptions on the topic mental illness and health. Through this, experts hope to bring a better understanding and reduce a stigma surrounding the topic.

This year's recognitions come at a time of heightened awareness of mental health due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, the uncertainty, isolation and fear related to the disease has led to an increased need for mental health services. 

"One of the things we are getting in perspective and really starting to see now that initial crisis from the pandemic has started to slow down, is the true impact to people's mental health," said Whytney Mask, director of crisis services and outreach for Texoma Community Center. "With changing routines, being stuck at home all the time... loss of family time, we are really starting to see a huge impact on people's mental health."

Over the past year, Mask said the community center has seen an increased number of clients, including some who have never sought mental health help in the past. Common concerns range from depression to heightened anxiety and acute mental health episodes.

In the lead up to Mental Health Awareness Month, TCC held a contest and asked members of the community to create art that describes their perspective on mental health. Some of these pieces are being used in a poster campaign designed to increase awareness throughout the month.

For some, the contest gave the opportunity to put a visual picture to their own battles with mental illness, Mask said.

The Texoma Community Center has received a $188,000 grant for counseling services related to COVID-19. [Michael Hutchins / Herald Democrat[

"The art contest was really a way to allow people in the community to have a way to express what mental health means to them or what their mental health challenges feel like to them and to help others really understand it," Mask said.

Part of May's importance is increasing the conversation on the topic of mental health with the hope of reducing a long-standing stigma against it. Efforts by mental health providers, including the recent, "OK to say," campaign have helped put a human face to the topic.

"The thing with mental health is that many times you cannot see it, and unfortunately there has been a lot of stigma," she said. "Back in history, no one understood mental health challenges, disorders and signs, so, before it was really able to be researched and understood, people would just be locked away."

For many, fears of people finding out they are battling mental health concerns has led some to become paralyzed in fear, Mask said. This ultimately led some to not seek treatment. 

"There is oftentimes fear of losing relationships or jobs or all kinds of things because of saying you may have a mental health challenge," she said.

Locally, the center plans to spend may renewing education campaigns that were suspended during the pandemic in addition to the poster campaign

If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, please contact the Texoma Community Center's crisis hotline at 1-877-277-2226.