Advocates from across the state gathered in Tallahassee on April 16th in support of mental health and substance abuse treatment services. Members of Florida Partners in Crisis, the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, NAMI Florida, the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, Disability Rights Florida and the Florida Psychiatric Society met with legislators, testified at committee hearings, participated in a Rally and ended the day with a Legislative Appreciation Reception on the 22nd floor of the Capitol.
Attendees also gave a special thank you to Senator Denise Grimsley, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee and Rep. Matt Hudson, Chair of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, for their strong support of treatment funding.
Speakers at this year’s Behavioral Health Day Rally included Dr. Linda DePiano, Board Chair and Bob Sharpe, President of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health as well as Patti Greenough, Board Chair and Mark Fontaine, Executive Director, of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association and Rob Siedlecki, Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health at the Dept. of Children and Families. Rep. Darryl Rouson, an attorney from St. Petersburg also addressed the crowd to thank them for their work and dedication. Rouson is in recovery from addiction and is a staunch champion of the importance of community based treatment services.
Attendees at the Rally heard three stories of hope and inspiration. Elizabeth Woodsmall of Tallahassee, a trauma survivor, shared her story of recovery and encouraged the crowd not to be afraid to seek treatment for mental illness. “It’s very scary to see that your brain is not like everyone else’s but don’t be afraid,” said Woodsmall who gave special thanks to the treatment providers in attendance.
Katherine Johnson talked of her struggle with addiction that left her homeless and pregnant on the streets of Jacksonville. Katherine received help from Gateway Community Services, has been sober for more than two years and cares for her beautiful son thanks to treatment and community support. She encouraged legislators to do everything they could to support treatment funding.
Major Jim Russell, Deputy Chief of Police for the Florida State University Police Department sought help for depression three years ago after learning how to recognize symptoms of depression in college students and realizing that he had many of the symptoms. He encouraged attendees to “take the small step of going to the doctor, you can feel better.” Russell was accompanied by his wife Connie and FSU Police Chief David Perry. In addition to his law enforcement duties, Russell is a member of NAMI Florida and frequently speaks to community and law enforcement organizations about mental illness and recovery.
Behavioral Health Day advocates had a chance to talk with a number of legislators who stopped by the Legislative Appreciation Reception on Tuesday evening to say hello to their constituents and encourage them to remain active in the legislative process. Rep. Gayle Harrell of Port St. Lucie emphasized the importance of getting to know legislators in their districts by inviting them to visit treatment centers and other local programs. Harrell is the Chair of the House Healthy Families committee.
Also attending were Senator Denise Grimsley and House members Mark Danish, George Moraitis, Kathleen Peters, Cary Pigman, Darryl Rouson, Carl Zimmerman.
Guests were also inspired by Deidre Krzanowski, an FSU student and leader in NAMI on Campus who shared her personal story and told of the significant role that NAMI programs have played in her ability to maintain her wellness and in helping her family understand and support someone with mental illness.
Thanks so everyone for making Behavioral Health Day a great success!