Virginia experts seek to ‘normalize’ conversations about mental health

Updated: Apr. 16, 2019 at 11:22 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Candid conversations took place in Richmond on Tuesday about erasing the stigma of mental health and making it a part of everyday life.

That was the focus of a community gathering featuring Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, the non-profit group VOCAL and #IfYouCouldSeeMe. Those battling mental health issues opened up to total strangers to help make this kind of tough talk normal.

It’s the beauty of a one-on-one conversation, learning something new from a stranger.

"I sometimes don't know if it’s mental, or physical, or emotional or spiritual,” a speaker told the crowd.

When feelings of imperfection take a toll, who can you turn to?

"Sometimes I just want to live as a normal person when my brain is trying to convince me that I'm not normal,” the group heard an advocate say about her own challenges.

For Michelle Stewart, it started when she was a child.

"(It) definitely runs in my family but (it’s) very personal because, like my mom,” she said.

While growing up, she watched some of her mother’s habits.

"She was spending thousands of dollars. She was rebelling. She was young and wild and free,” Stewart said.

It wasn't until she was in college that she says her mother was diagnosed with a mental illness.

"If it wasn’t for that, we’d probably just be thinking ‘oh, that’s just her’ or ‘those behaviors are normal’…We weren’t educated about it,” she said.

That was the whole point of the dialogue - education, support and creating a new normal.

"We are not our diagnoses. Everybody’s been through some type of traumatic experience,” Deidre Johnson said.

Johnson runs VOCAL, a group of people who have mental health challenges serving as peer counselors to others who also have them.

"Hope and recovery is possible. That’s what I want people to know, too. It is possible. You witness it every day…It’s not about mental illness. It’s about mental wellness,” Johnson said.

That’s why Stewart - after living through these challenges growing up - now wants to give back. She’s studying to become a professional therapist.

"You’re having asthma or bronchitis, you go to a doctor about that, well you can go to a provider for this,” she said.

There is a host of local resources to reach out if you or someone you know just needs to talk about this. Experts say, that's often the first step to taking control.



Phone: (804) 343- 1777




Phone: (804) 869-9804


Mental Health America Virginia WARM Line:

Phone: (866) 400-6428

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

Phone: (800) 784-2433

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