On an average Tuesday afternoon, the gymnasium at the Calhoun Recreation Department is occupied with students playing after school or locals starting pickup games. But this week, the rec gym had a different type of crowd.
On Tuesday, the gym served as a venue for the first annual Mental Health Resource Fair, sponsored by the Child Advocacy Center, AdventHealth Gordon and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“I thought we’d just bring all the resources together,” said Cindy Gregg, director of the Child Advocacy Center. “There’s a stigma that goes with mental health and illness but you can help your mental health, you can go outside, have a hobby.”
Gregg, along with her co-worker Michelle Walraven, had the idea of hosting this fair for the public to become more aware of the agencies available to those struggling with mental health issues. Gregg’s goal is to have the fair every year and expand it, and she wants to make known the different opportunities for treatment besides traditional “talk therapy.”
“My hope is to educate the county more about trauma and create a more trauma-informed community, especially in schools,” said Walraven. “That’s my dream.”
Walraven is a licensed clinical social worker and a child advocate for the center, and working with children, she has seen how young victims of crime can suffer from not only trauma, but misdiagnoses.
“Trauma symptoms and ADHD symptoms mirror,” Walraven said. “So sometimes kids are misdiagnosed, and the two are treated completely different.”
Through her job as an advocate, Walraven has seen how a child’s mental health is as crucial to treat as an adult’s.
And through the grant-funded services that the center offers, both Walraven and Gregg are working to make mental health a more discussed topic among all age groups.
The fair was only one of their attempts to do so.
In the gymnasium, there were about twenty booths represented, from play therapists to chiropractors, businesses who were there to not only make their services known, but to also help Gregg and Walraven further educate the general public.
Amy Quarles, a play therapist who has been working with children and adolescents for the past 25 years, said a lot of people think about sitting in a chair with a counselor, and kids aren’t typically engaged with that style of therapy. So she approaches mental health in a different way.
On Quarles’ table was a tray of sand, toys and a “feelings chart” that she said children use to express their emotions.
“With play therapy, we’re not usually in the chair, we’re out the door. If I have little ones in the room, it is definitely out the door,” Quarles said. “It’s more active in a lot of ways, it engages more senses than just heading and speaking.”
Brandi Dixon, an artist and yoga instructor, also agreed that every person is different and might need to be treated with alternative options. Dixon leads art therapy classes and exercise sessions as forms of self-care.
“I think a lot of times people are ashamed of maybe being depressed or having problems and they don’t show that face at work or put on a good face in the community when in reality, they’re struggling,” Gregg said. “We’re trying to reduce that negative stigma of what mental health is.”
Walraven said she hopes that people in Gordon County know there are organizations who want to help them, regardless of their situation, and that this fair was aimed to provide a way to access those agencies.
For more information on the Gordon County Child Advocacy Center or the Mental Health Resource Fair, contact the center at 706-625-3311 or visit their website at familyresourcecentergordon.org/forms.html.