HARLINGEN, RGV – Rose Gomez says the Cameron County Mental Health Task Force is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s best kept secrets.

Having recently celebrated their 10th anniversary in April, Gomez, who serves as chairwoman for the organization, wants to change that.

“Tonight, was our opportunity not only to have a social gathering and recognize our accomplishments, but to really, pretty much, recommit ourselves to the cause of community awareness and collaboration, and knowing that we need to give back to our community when it comes to such a sad illness.”

Rose M. Gomez

CCMHTF is a collective of licensed professional counselors, workforce solutions representatives, criminal justice representatives, and mental health groups in partnership with the local mental health authority – Tropical Texas Behavioral Health. The task force was formed to address Cameron County’s significant mental health needs. The county, along with Willacy and Hidalgo, is designated as a health professional shortage area (HPSA) and is ranked in the bottom 50th percentile for mental health in Texas. Texas, as a whole, ranked 45th among the states in 2016 for access to care by Mental Health America.

“We all share the same concern that we do need more licensed, credentialed professionals in this field,” Gomez said.

The group has made many strides toward bringing those numbers up. Meeting once a month at the Harlingen Outreach Center, they discuss any new resources or developments and plan and schedule events. They provide referrals, educational materials and, even, scholarships, and hold presentations and seminars. Their monthly Speakers Bureau also gives other related organizations a chance to present what they offer for Cameron County residents.

“We are nonprofit, and we are not here to gain any money. On the contrary, we’re here to give back and share our community resources,” Gomez said.

For their efforts, the CCMHTF won an Equity in Behavioral Health Award in 2015. They were also the recipients of $47,222 from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation in 2016.

“We submitted a proposal and in that proposal, we, as an organization, are committed to spreading the word about the myths and the stereotypes of mental illness and how we sometimes as individuals judge people based on their mental health,” Gomez said. “And we shouldn’t … There’s a person behind that illness.”

In association with the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), they launched their campaign in May to end the stigma of mental illness here in the Valley. Through social media and billboards in Cameron, Willacy and Hidalgo, people are reminded that “labels are for jars” and not people. Gomez hopes they campaign not only ends negative perceptions about mental illness, but encourages people to seek help.

Her eyes are set on college campuses next.

“I think sometimes, you know, our kids, that they’re dealing with … stressors, whether it’s grades or relationships, you know, there’s (sic) so many folks undiagnosed. And, so I think it’s important that they also know that it’s okay to get help.”

With the campaign, scholarship programs, and continued outreach, this “best kept secret” is getting out.

“As a community, we don’t have to travel to Hidalgo County, or we don’t have to travel to San Antonio or even Corpus [Christi], to address mental health needs. We have local resources that we can tap into,” Gomez said.

For more information about the CCMHTF, visit their website at cameroncountymentalhealth.org.