World Mental Health Day fosters awareness, compassion
SAN ANTONIO - Under the big top at the Mission Park pavilion, dozens of health providers and the mentally ill and families they serve celebrated World Mental Health Day, a day that fosters awareness and compassion.
"It is a medical disorder, just like diabetes or high blood pressure," said Gilbert Gonzales, director of Bexar County's mental health department. "You just don't wake up in the morning and decide, 'I think I'll be a schizophrenic today, or I think I'll be drug-addicted today.'"
Gonzales also said, contrary to what many may think, "Ninety-nine percent of folks with mental illness are not violent."
He said mental illness can be addressed through appropriate treatment and medication.
"It takes a while, but it can be done," Gonzales said. "People who are mentally ill do lead productive lives."
Gonzales said over the past decade in Bexar County, law enforcement officers have been trained on how to improve their interaction with the mentally ill and where they can take mentally ill people for treatment.
"If that law enforcement officer is not trained or doesn't understand, the person very regrettably ends up in jail instead of in treatment," Gonzales said.
Or worse yet, Gonzales said, the person could wind up in a volatile situation with law enforcement.
instance, moments before Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot in
September, his wife told police in Charlotte, North Carolina, he didn't
have a gun, but had just taken his medication for a traumatic
A hospital employee, Jacob Sanchez, 23, said he's never had an encounter with police, but he knows, "That is a very touchy subject, a very big risk."
Sanchez said he has experienced the pain of rejection and misunderstanding because he has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that triggers involuntary movements and sounds known as tics.
Sanchez said he'll never forget when a store clerk told him, "If you don't stop it, you're going to have to leave. You're annoying the customers."
Sanchez said he was stunned and told the clerk, "I can't help it."
He said even so, the clerk repeated this warning.
But now, thanks to the support of his family and his medications, Sanchez said, "I'm blessed with Tourette's. Honestly, that's how I feel. It's never held me back. Actually, I feel like I have a leg up. I've learned to conquer this. It's not going to stop me."
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