Mental Health: Observing Mental Illness Awareness Week

By Cynthia Cunningham

This week we are observing Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 7 through October 13).  Many do not think that this affects them because they do not have any mental issues.  However, we are all touched by mental illness at some point in our lives.  Maybe not directly ourselves but those around us: loved ones, friends or co-workers.  The point I continue to emphasize is that we ALL need to educate ourselves so that we are prepared for when someone around us needs help.

Some Facts:

  • Did you know that 75% of ALL chronic mental health conditions begin by the age of 24?
  • 1 in 5 people WILL experience a mental health condition in their life.
  • Roughly ½ of ALL lifetime mental health conditions start by the mid-teens.
  • Mental Illness does not choose who is affected by it, but culture, race, gender or sexual orientation can affect access to treatment, support and quality of care for many.
  • Racial Disparities in Mental Health Treatment:  Of white health care providers, 51% believe that their patients do not adhere to medical treatments because of cultural or linguistic barriers.  56% report having no form of cultural competency training.
  • 30% of active duty and reserve military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health problem requiring treatment.  Of the 30% less than half of returning Veterans in need receive any mental health treatment.
  • Mental health of Firefighters and EMS Workers: First responders attempt suicide at a rate of 10 times higher than the general population.  A firefighter is 3 times more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. 85% of first responders have experienced symptoms of mental illness at some point in their lifetime.

What is it like to care for someone with a mental illness?

In the U.S. there are 8.4 Million caregivers supporting people living with a mental illness and spend an average of 32 hours per week providing care.

Being a caregiver is stressful!  Reach out to those caregivers you know.  Offer to listen to them, take them out for some self-care, or learn what kind of support they would like.

Some Mental Illness Conditions:

Dual Diagnosis: What does it mean to have Dual Diagnosis?

Dual Diagnosis is when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously.  People with dual diagnosis should receive integrated treatment that addresses both substance use and underlying mental health conditions.  Eight Million people in the U.S. experience dual diagnosis. More than ½ of all opioid prescriptions go to people with mental illness.  Over 30,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Things you THINK you know about BPD:

  • Untreatable
  • Out of control
  • Incapable of having healthy relationships
  • Selfish
  • Erratic
  • Needy
  • Impossible to please

Here are some FACTS:

  • People with BPD experience extreme difficulty controlling their emotions, thoughts and actions, which complicate meaningful relationships.
  • This lack of relationships and emotional support further complicates the illness. Separation or rejection can lead to self-destructive behaviors, self-harm or suicidal thinking.


How much do you know about Schizophrenia?

People living with Schizophrenia are 6 to 7 times more likely to be unemployed than the general population, with a 70-90% unemployment rate.  35% of people with schizophrenia have experienced homelessness or have been in jail.  Schizophrenia interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. It is a complex, long-term medical illness, affecting about 1% of Americans.  It does not have a single cause either: genetics, environment, brain chemistry and substance use can all contribute to schizophrenia.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is experiencing frequent, intrusive thoughts that lead to unwanted, excessive and irrational behaviors.  These compulsive behaviors are often emotionally and sometimes physically painful.

Someone with OCD can learn positive coping skills.  I learned from a woman, whose OCD made her late for work each day, that instead of running back into her home multiple times to make sure her curling iron and iron were turned off, she started bring them with her to the car.  When she had that OCD panic that she left them on, she could look over and see them in the seat next to her.  Learn what coping skills can help.


90% of individuals who die by suicide experienced a mental health condition.  We lose 22 Veterans by suicide each day.  I have been told that in Waco we have 3 to 4 suicides per week!  That is just the deaths that could be confirmed as suicide.  However, some deaths are questionable so the numbers are never exact.

What do you do if you suspect someone is thinking of suicide?  ASK

A – Ask them if they are thinking of killing themselves.  No, asking does NOT put the thought into their mind.  They are just hoping that someone around them will see how much they are struggling.  They are using all their energy to fight these feelings that they cannot always ask for help.  YOU can be their lifeline!  Some have told me that they would be embarrassed to ask this and my reply is “would you rather be embarrassed a few seconds or go to their funeral”?  It is THAT serious!!

S – Stay with them.  Of course, keep yourself safe if they have a weapon first!!  The amount of time that someone actually acts on the suicidal thoughts is a small amount.  Never leave them alone during this time.

K – Know who to call for help!  You are not an expert but you can seek help from those who are.  Call 911!!

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives.  This equates to approximately 233.4 million people.  An estimated 8% of Americans (24.4 Million people) have PTSD at any given time.  That is equal to the total population of Texas!  An estimated one out of every nine women develop PTSD, making them twice as likely as men.  Remember people of ALL ages can have PTSD, even small children.

Now that you have learned some mental health information, keep going!

Be a part of the StigmaFree Campaign by actively taking these three steps:

LIVE IT!  Learn about mental health by educating yourself and others.

SHARE IT! Share StigmaFree on social media, strive to listen, tell your story and see the person not the illness.

SHOW IT! Take action on mental health issues, raise awareness and make a difference.

More information can be found here:

Help CureStigma!! 

Let us get rid of the shame for seeking help.  No one thinks of anything of going to the doctor for heart problems, kidney problems or lung problems so why is there shame for seeking help for our brain?  Learn what you can do here:

Cynthia Cunningham will continue as the Act Locally Waco Mental Health blog coordinator, but she is leaving her position as Executive Director of NAMI.  She shares this personal message:

“It has been an honor to work for NAMI Waco and my community. I found NAMI when my family desperately needed it. I knew absolutely nothing about mental illness.  It not only helped save my daughter’s life but it gave her a future that we were worried that she would never have.  A mental illness diagnosis does not have to be an end to a successful life.  It just means a different path to get to where we are heading.  I am proof that by educating yourself and those around you, you can save a life and make a difference!

Thank you to every place that has allowed me to come speak on topics of mental health, participate in trainings, provide resources and advocate for better mental health care.  I do not know what the future holds for me but I know that I am blessed to have worked with so many wonderful people in this journey.” – Cynthia Cunningham

Cynthia Cunningham, has been a Wacoan since age 2. She lives with her husband of 28 years, Bobby, and two spoiled dogs and one royal cat!  Her passion is educating others about mental health. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



The Future of Historic Waco — Q & A with Rae Jefferson

The Historic Waco Foundation has launched a strategic process to understand Waco’s story from a number of perspectives in order to form future partnerships and programs that would offer the greatest benefit to the community. Act Locally Waco sat down recently with Rae Jefferson, Communications Director at Creative Waco, for a Q&A about the Historic Waco Foundation’s recent community gathering and the overall initiative. This post is the second in a series to share with you how that work is progressing and how you can get involvedFor the rest of the posts in this series, click here: Historic Waco Foundation Series. — ALW

ALW: What is your connection to Historic Waco Foundation? Are you on the board?

RJ: I am not on the board, but I am part of a community engagement group convened by Historic Waco Foundation to guide the organization’s process of engaging Waco community leaders to talk about Waco’s history, including the parts not regularly told. As the Communications Director for Creative Waco, I was particularly interested in focusing on how the arts can be useful in telling Waco’s full story.

ALW: Are you a Waco local?

RJ: I came to Waco as a Baylor student, but after graduation, I stepped out of the “Baylor bubble.”

ALW: So you started to see Waco through a fresh set of eyes. In other words, your point of view changed.

RJ: That’s right. For example, I did not even know Historic Waco Foundation had these homes. I saw them around Waco, but I assumed they were businesses.

ALW: Or dentists offices.

RJ:  Exactly—and over time I started to learn more about Historic Waco Foundation and now I am seeing a desire within the organization for it to encapsulate more of Waco’s story than it currently does.

ALW: So I am hearing you say that Historic Waco Foundation is launching a re-energizing effort of sorts. What is the first step in the process?

RJ: That is a great question. Historic Waco Foundation convened a community engagement group tasked with planning and carrying out a meeting of community leaders to discuss Waco’s history from a number of perspectives.

ALW: How did you think the community meeting went?

RJ: I think it was a great first step. The community engagement group wanted to ensure we had a number of perspectives, so we invited a diverse group to the meeting, including individuals from interest groups, academic institutions and local nonprofits, among others. It was clear from the conversations in the room that everyone who attended was excited to be there, and it was encouraging to see so many people come out to help with such an important initiative.

ALW: I was at the meeting too, and when you say diverse, I think most people assume you are saying racially diverse, and that was certainly true, but there was also diversity in age, gender, length of time in Waco. What would you say we heard that we would not have necessarily heard if it had not been such a diverse group?

RJ: I had no idea that TSTC was the site of an air force base, and I had not heard much mention of military history during our initial discussions as an engagement group.

There was also talk of the Waco tunnels. Apparently, in the last few years a number of long underground tunnels have been discovered beneath buildings around the city. Their original purpose is still unknown, but it is incredible that there are bits of our city’s history that are still surfacing. No one at my table knew anything about the tunnels, and we would not have if we had not gathered that specific group of people together. I like to think it is an indication that we are on the right track with the work we have been doing.

ALW: What do you hope Historic Waco Foundation will do with the information?

RJ: I hope we begin to tell more stories in a creative way. I am part of a creative organization, so I am partial to using art as a way to tell the stories of the past. I also hope Historic Waco Foundation will be able to engage more people in our collective history and that there will be some level of reconciliation with Waco’s story, regardless of on what side of history an individual’s own history falls. And I also think we can work to get the younger generations excited about Waco’s history.

ALW: You know, I have been thinking about that a lot. Why is it important to get young adults interested and engaged in history?

RJ: I facilitated one of the tables at the community gathering, and my table had a former history teacher. He was explaining that his middle and high school students did not care about history so it took the fun out of history for him. Thinking back to my own experience, I hated history class. Now, especially with the way things are in our country, if you do not have an understanding of the history of the people that live around you then you cannot have empathy. If you understand history, you can take steps not to repeat it.

ALW: Tell us a little about the community leaders who participated in the gathering.

RJ: Of course when you think of community leaders you think of leaders from area nonprofits, the arts and businesses, but we also tried to center in on individuals who are not necessarily thought of as traditional community leaders but who play an essential role in the community. For example, the longtime Director of the Richland Mall was at the gathering. If you want to shop in Waco, you go to the Richland mall. It really goes to the notion that history is happening all around us—it is not just sitting on a shelf somewhere.

ALW: Why is this initiative so important now, locally speaking and looking at the big picture?

 RJ: You can really feel a shift happening across Waco. For example, millennials are no longer the generation in college. We are looking to start our careers and settle down, and we are seeing that students are graduating and staying in Waco or leaving for a short time and coming back. Waco is also experiencing immense growth. We are seeing an influx of tourism and with it a fresh energy. But, with that comes the need to step back and recognize our entire community.

ALW: Is there anything from the meeting you would like to work on personally?

RJ: Yes! Many people suggested using the houses as venue space for art shows and concerts; I love the idea of combining history with the arts.

ALW: Lastly, how do others get involved?

RJ: We are currently working on next steps, but in the meantime, we are encouraging area residents to reach out to the Foundation directly at or (254) 753-5166 with questions, comments and stories about the people and places that have made Waco what it is today.

Rae Jefferson is a creative, Netflix-er and marketing professional, in that order. Originally from Houston, she stuck around Waco after graduating from Baylor University with a B.A. in Journalism, PR & New Media and a minor in Film & Digital Media. Now she is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Creative Waco, where she is paid to tell people that there is, in fact, really good art in Waco. She loves her community and learning what it means to serve others, but most of all, she loves her “dog-daughter,” Charlie.  

Introducing OUT on Austin

By Jeffrey Vitarius of the Waco Pride Network

Waco had celebrated LGBTQ Pride in the past, but had not had any kind of organized, city-wide celebration for ten years. That changed last year. After a crop of conversion therapy billboards sprouted up around Waco, organizers took the initiative to bring Waco’s LGBTQ community back out into the open. They had originally planned on a small picnic…what ultimately occurred was the first “OUT on the Brazos Pride Festival.” Over four hundred people turned out, the event was a huge success, and the organizers were able to raise considerable funds for future Pride events.

 The 2018 festival focused on building a family-oriented welcoming environment featuring live performances, speakers, vendors, sponsors and a great sense of community. As planning began for Waco Pride 2018, it was obvious that the OUT on the Brazos Pride Festival should continue. But what about offering a more adult-oriented event in addition to the family-friendly festival?

Then we had a thought. What if we celebrated the numerous LGBTQ-friendly establishments downtown?  And just like that, the concept for “OUT on Austin” was born. A few conversations with the wonderful Rebekah Geare Hagman of Cultivate 7Twelve later and we had an event plan.

OUT on Austin will be centered on Cultivate 7Twelve where we will hold an art auction and raffle as well as offer refreshments. We will connect the event with various other locations up and down Austin Avenue with a social media scavenger hunt, encouraging participants to take in all that the Austin Avenue District has to offer. The event will close with a short presentation and the announcement of the raffle winner back at Cultivate 7Tweleve.

The theme of the evening will be “Celebrating the Beauty in Grayscale,” we will be recognizing that we are moving from a world of stark contrasts to one of gradients and subtlety.

The plan is ambitious, and we are absolutely confident in its success. We hope you will join us this year, next year, and in many years to come. We don’t plan on going anywhere. Find out more at or on social media @WPrideNetwork.

The art auction portion of OUT on Austin will take place from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm on October 12th at Cultivate 7Twelve and will be followed by a short presentation.

The OUT On the Brazos Pride Festival will take place from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on October 13th at Brazos Park East.

Jeffrey Vitarius is an active member of the Waco Pride Network. The Waco Pride Network was official founded in July 2018. It is a non-profit organized to serve the LGBTQ community of Waco, Texas. Waco Pride Network’s keystone event is the annual Out on the Brazos event held each October. We strive to foster a positive, open, and compassionate LGBTQ community by promoting events with integrity and excellence.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.