“I cannot be well, when you are suffering.”
This motto of interdependence articulates our sacred duty to care for each other during hard times. It speaks to the need for communities to create healing spaces for those in distress and to advocate for political solutions to improve our healthcare system as a whole.
In recent years, community health and mental well-being have been increasingly threatened, as more and more people struggle to make ends meet. Many leaders in public health have even gone so far as to name social disconnection, loneliness, and isolation to be a new “epidemic,” as people lack the time, energy, and resources to be in community with each other. What is more, as the costs of health care continue to climb, many Texans find it difficult to afford mental health services.
Despite these great challenges to our mental well-being, there is hope that communities can come together to find both personal and political solutions. In our recent past, communities have collaborated with healthcare professionals in order to learn about strategies to practice community health on their own terms: In Houston’s Third Ward, Black community members screened their neighbors for disease throughout the early 1970s. Galveston’s St. Vincent’s Student Clinic also came out of the 1960s and 1970s health social movements to advocate for free health care, patients’ rights, self-help, and mutual education about health issues. In West Texas during the late 1980s and early 1990s, community health workers provided health care and translation services to migrant farmworkers and their children. Over the last several decades, the idea of embedded lay people as promoters of community health has gained popularity; and across the world, community members are drawing from their collective histories, wisdom, and strengths in order to provide care and support for each other where there is limited access to health care, including mental health care.
By listening to others and sharing our passion for mental well-being, we can make a world of difference in improving mental well-being in the City of Houston and throughout the State of Texas. Moreover, by recognizing community strengths and needs, we can work together to create the policies needed to improve community mental health at the local, state, and national levels.