Gaining Momentum: Residents Launch Local Mental Health Initiatives

Mesa Merritt
By Mesa Merritt

In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, residents came together this May to form a mental health awareness committee and design a month-long campaign to destigmatize and uplift stories of mental health and connect families to resources. The committee also used the month as a spark for igniting sustainable, community-led strategies in supporting mental health.

She kicks, she screams, she wants to smash the world to smithereens!
She roars a red, red roar.
Sophie is a volcano ready to explode.

“How do you think Sophie is feeling?”


Surrounded by a group of thirty preschoolers, Vital Village Community Champion, Sunday Taylor is leading Story Time at the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library. As the children sit on the colorful carpet, legs criss-crossed and necks stretching to get a good look at every page, they are doing more than listening to a story: they are engaging in conversation about mental health and emotional expression.

This Story Time, like the others that took place across the branches of the Boston Public Library, was a part of the Vital Village Mental Health Awareness Campaign, which sought to both facilitate and normalize conversations around mental health. To achieve this goal, the resident-led Campaign committee designed events that engaged a wide variety of Bostonians in dialogue about what mental health looks like. In addition to children, the committee brought the conversation to new parents, experienced caregivers, returning citizens, and even to the statehouse.  

During a committee meeting at the beginning of May, committee members opened up about what they wanted to accomplish through the campaign:

Weaving these intentions together, our ambition was to encourage people to see mental health as a presence in everyone and look beyond the labels of mental illness. Sunday Taylor, trailblazer for the Campaign for the second year spoke to the importance of having open community discussions: “we have to take time to normalize what is already normal; what is already happening across all of our lives.” As these individual thoughts flowed through the air, a collective vision was born: Our Voices, Our Stories: A mental health awareness campaign that arose from the community, to serve the community.

Leveraging the wealth of local events taking place for Mental Health Awareness Month, the committee created a calendar that highlighted free, family-oriented mental health events. In addition, the committee designed events to engage residents both inside and outside the Network. Marking the halfway point of the month, Vital Village co-hosted the May Network Connection Meeting, convening voices from the community, the mental health field, and the statehouse to engage in interactive dialogue around mental health. As a champion of mental health in the statehouse and a Roxbury native, Representative Liz Miranda of the 5th Suffolk District spoke about the need to expand mental health supports and to work collaboratively:

We know that when people are talking about therapy, they don’t always talk about us.We need to be helping people that go into bodegas, go into churches, go into community centers.And I know that government cannot do this alone, and I know the health centers, the people that work in public health cannot do this alone. The only way we’re going to make our community better and healthier is together.

The collective impact that Rep. Miranda is calling for is also at the heart of what the committee is working to achieve long-term: by driving the conversation towards action and using the month as a springboard to launch community-led and -sustained mental health initiatives. While these discussions are filled with energy and passion, the hurdle to translate these conversations into change is still present. As one committee member insightfully remarked: “everyone wants to get their feet wet, but no one wants to get their hands dirty.”

And so the committee took on the challenge of creating this bridge and encouraging residents to take the leap across; to get their hands dirty. As a culmination of the Campaign, the Community First Aid & Mental Health Strategies workshop signified the beginning of this translation into action. Community leaders in mental health gathered to collaboratively design a Community Action Plan for cultivating mentally resilient neighborhoods. As an introduction to the strategizing session, Tara Register of Dorchester CARES Coalition, led the group through a Community First Aid session where participants discussed how trauma affects communities and the importance behind residents coming together for community healing: “We each play a part in the healing of ourselves and communities.”

The group then broke out into two task forces and began developing strategic pathways to strengthen community mental health, the scopes being: 1) Education, Outreach, & Awareness, and 2) Resources & Supports. The task forces will reconvene in-person over the summer to share the progress on their strategy; check our calendar for the official date announcement.

Building off the collective efforts of May, the invigorating visions that residents shared of mentally resilient communities will continue to generate momentum and push these strategies into practice throughout the year to come.


Want to see other stories highlighted during the Campaign? Check out our online portion of the campaign: 31 Ways in 31 Days

Book excerpt from: When Sophie gets angry--really, really angry by Molly Bang