First annual Tucson Palooza educates community about mental health awareness

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Mental health and illness is often a subject people avoid talking about, and is one that comes with a stigma. According to a Centers for Disease Control study, "57% of adults without mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness, and only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness."

In order to try and combat the stigma, a variety of community organizations and agencies teamed up to create the first ever "Tucson Palooza." 

"If someone has a broken leg, you don't see that hidden," event coordinator Pamela Wagner said. "But as soon as you start talking about mental health and mental illnesses, 'oh, we don't talk about that.' It's not cool to talk about, and that's what we're trying to change."

Wagner is a member of Camp Wellness, one of the many organizations there to help educate the community about mental health and illness. One of their main goals is to make it a topic more people feel comfortable talking about.

Sam Nagy agreed, and stressed the importance of reducing the stigma surrounding the topic. It's a territory he has a lot of experience with.

"At one point I was incarcerated, dealing with mental illness: drug addiction, alcoholism," he said. "I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Later, it was upgraded to Schizoaffective Disorder, and I've been taking medications for 17 years."

One of the things that helped him turn life around was the ability to be open about his mental health illness. He, too, thinks that many people are still scared to talk about it -- it's awkward, uncomfortable.

"It's been shunned, it's been kind of, on the backburner," Nagy said. "People don't really want to talk about it. But I think talking about it really brings it into the light. And then, people can address what's going on."

Wagner and Nagy say everyone -- family, friends, the community, the person affected, can benefit from being open about discussing mental health problems.

"If you don't talk about it, you can't fix it, you can't make it better," Wagner said. "You can't support people going through it."

By opening up about his mental illness, Nagy said he was able to get the help he needed to turn his life around.

"I was able to find the right services," he said."If I don't know that I have a flat tire on my vehicle and I go to drive around the City of Tucson and someone says 'hey, you've got a flat tire.' Then okay, now I can fix my flat tire."

The resources on hand at the first annual Tucson Palooza, there to do just that. They included behavioral health agencies, healthcare facilities in the area, and many organizations that specialize in different areas. Some of those included the La Frontera Center, Cenpatico Integrated Care, Camp Wellness, and Hope Incorporated.

By knowing the resources are available and by talking about the mental health ailments, Nagy thinks there's a path forward for people struggling with mental health problems.

"It doesn't have to be in the dark anymore," he said. "We can live our life, and progress forward."

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