SUMTER, S.C. — The Santee-Wateree Mental Health Center is connecting the community with resources in honor of mental health awareness month. Different groups set up booths for visitors to stop by and learn about the different options available to support mental wellness in Sumter, Lee, Clarendon and Kershaw Counties.
"To get people to understand that mental health is no different any other sickness," is the goal of the event, explains Mark Bellamy.
Bellamy is the community outreach director at the Santee-Wateree Mental Health Center. He’s been helping plan the Mental Health Awareness Event to connect community members with different resources, like the Roads of Independence program.
"We assist with housing, employment, education, life skills, medical, transportation," Program Director Keisha White lists. "Any skill or resource that you need to be an independent, productive adult, we assist with that."
White says being at the event — along with other vendors — is crucial.
"Mental health is such a prevalent issue in our community, and always has been; however, it's being looked at differently now," White explains. "So we're wanting people to know what services are available so that if and when you need the help, you know that it's there, you know where you can go, you know, what other services are available, and just that the community supports you and that support is there and it's willing to be there for you. You just have to be willing to take it."
A lesson Gabrielle Lumley has learned firsthand. She struggles with mental illness, and recently moved here to South Carolina.
"I was in Idaho, but now I'm in Manning and I didn't know what they have for opportunities," Lumley tells me. "So now I do since I got help and learned about here and stuff. So I think everybody should get out here and learn. There's more things that nobody knows out here that they should know."
To help with that, resource representatives set up different booths and visitors came to enjoy food, dancing, and live music. Shaun Hernandez with Rebound Behavioral Health, a psych hopsital and crisis stabilization facility, says this laidback environment is key.
"We want to get out there, show that we are real people, doing real life with people alongside them. We're not, you know, there to judge. We're not there to hold anything over them. We want to do life alongside with them," Hernandez shares. "They don't have to deal with the struggles by themselves. There's people, there's facilities, amazing facilities in the area, and we just want to be a part of that solution."
That mindset is what visitors Tamia Green and Shavon Muldrow appreciate.
"It just makes it easier because you got people around you that's in the community that's helping around you," Muldrow tells me. "You got the different outlets, the different networks, and you just have people that’s here to help but also just to have a good time about it."
Bellamy says his fun environment's goal is to lead to better treatment in the future.
"Understanding actually what mental health really is and make sure we're getting people the treatments they need to get a better involvement in the communities and the community is actually a part of the process of actually understanding how we’re treating mental illness," Bellamy explains.
All while trying to break the stigma associated with mental illness.
"We're trying to break the stigma in any way that we can so that people will feel comfortable with getting the services that they need," White details.
For more information on how to get connected with a resource, you can contact the Santee-Wateree Mental Health Center or find your local health facility on the South Carolina Department of Mental Health's website.