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Local healthcare, religious groups promote mental illness awareness


Mental health organizations, law enforcement and city officials gathered at a forum on Thursday to talk about mental health issues in the Gainesville community. Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. and Trinity United Methodist Church hosted the forum in the Worship Center of the Trinity United Methodist Church.

A panel of speakers from the various organizations spoke about their organizations and then took questions from the audience.

After the forum, the President and CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare Inc., Maggie Labarta, said it is important for the community to talk about mental health issues.

“What we want to do is bring understanding to the community and have a conversation about how mental illness impacts all of us through relatives, friends, ourselves and just really build a conversation, build a dialogue that helps us do a better job of helping people who are mentally ill in our community,” she said.

Labarta said when tragedies like the shooting in Newtown, Conn. occur, people jump to mental health issues. She said an important thing to understand is most mentally ill people are not dangerous.

“They are not going to be the Newton or Aurora or Virgina Tech people,” she said.”They are mostly victims more often than not.”

She said neglecting these conversations leaves people suffering from mental illness feeling isolated and leaves them unwilling to reach out for help.

“We lose a huge amount of work productivity,” Labarta said. “A huge amount of talent is lost to these illnesses because they often go untreated and so part of what we are trying to do is help people understand these are illnesses, like other illnesses, that can be treated and managed.”

Treatment depends on the individual patient, she said. Treatments can range from counseling and medication to rehabilitation.

“Like cancer, mental illness has various types and so you treat each one very differently depending on how it manifests.”

The focus of the forum, Labarta said, was to make sure people understand these individuals exist in our community.

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