Commissioner Bill Proctor hosts discussion on Mental Health and substance abuse reform

The crowd listens intently as Commissioner Bill Proctor initiated the unprecedented public panel discussion on mental health, emotional challenges and substance abuse. This event took place at the North Florida Fairgrounds, Wednesday evening.

The panelist included: Deborah Horton a representative for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); Janay Freeman chief executive officer of Neighborhood Health; Meg Young director of behavioral health services at Capital Regional Medical Center; Dr. Jay Reeve chief executive officer of Apalachee Center; Ebonie Allen a nurse practitioner at Bond Community Health Center; Doris Strong a NAMI representative; Cindy Foster an active member of NAMI; Dr. Paul Knoll the director of the Recovery Center at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital; Alan Williams district 8 State Representative; and Vincent Long the county administrator at Leon County Government.

Proctor described the distinguished panelist as hidden the gems of the community.

“We have an arsenal of outstanding minds” Proctor stated. “Passing through time headed to eternity, Tallahassee has been blessed with a phenomenal amount of resources that we don’t know.”

Dr. Jay Reeve, chief executive officer of Apalachee Center, addressed some of the prejudices about mental illness and the lack of needed attention.

“Mental illness is genetically influenced, not weakness of will and for too long our society has not treated this as an illness! In any other field of medicine we would call this an epidemic,” Reeve stated.

Apalachee Center has been dedicated to helping the individuals and families of North Florida succeed in recovering from emotional, psychiatric, and substance abuse crises, according to their website.

Deborah Horton a representative for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shared her personal experiences in dealing with her bipolar disease.  

“Take a good look at me, I am the face of mental illness,”  Horton said.  “Someone cared enough to say Deborah, let me take your hand. 

Horton expressed that even though she suffered  with the mental illness of depression she was still able to graduate with a Masters in two specialties.

NAMI, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness,according to their website.

“I had a difficult time but I knew that some people would not survive unless, I got out of my bed, got into the trenches and talked to these people,” Horton added.

FAMU’s presence was evident at Proctor’s discussion. Dr. Natalie King-Pedroso an American Literature professor at Florida A&M University expressed that this discussion well needed for the community.

“I have seen a number of our [FAMU] students who need help and because of the stigma, they are afraid,” King-Pedroso stated.

Joshua Plummer a fourth-year criminal justice major at Florida A&M University expressed that Proctor events can break the cycle in the African-American community.

“This was a much needed discussion for the African American community,” Plummer said.  “There are so many stereotypes and stigmas around substance abuse and mental health disorders, but more conversations like these can break barriers so that individuals aren’t afraid to seek the help they need.”

Proctor is looking to continue this event and the next discussion will be held April. 27 at the North Florida Fairgrounds.