McALLEN — The event at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium put together by a handful of McAllen ISD’s IB Ambassadors for Mental Health Saturday wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun, but it was — the people there said — absolutely necessary.
The event featured original music, videoed skits and presentations and testimonies from students at the district who struggle with mental health issues.
Those personal accounts were particularly powerful. Some of the teenagers struggle with anxiety, others with depression or eating disorders. Some have hurt themselves; others have considered suicide.
One of those speakers was Alejandra Tamez, a 17-year-old junior at McAllen High School. Tamez talked about her anxiety, an at times crippling anxiety that can keep her up all night and make a task as simple as eating a challenge. It’s driven her away from her passions. It’s driven her away from loved ones.
In many ways, she said, it’s difficult to express how much she’s suffering.
“My biggest struggle of all is the guilt,” she said. “I am so fortunate to have an amazing life — I have amazing parents, such a supportive family, and really, really great friends. I have a passion that I’m pursuing and I get good grades, and my life is just so good. So why does it feel like I’m just so unhappy all the time?”
Tamez said she hasn’t found a solution yet and that she isn’t healed, but she is trying. And that, she says, is what counts.
“And my family and supporters, especially, especially, these speakers, they help me do that,” she said. “I’m not the perfect example of someone finding help, because that’s not the reality of mental illness. The reality is that sometimes at 17 you don’t find all the answers you need to help yourself, but I think all that matters is that I’m reaching out and I’m looking, and that’s when mental illness gets treated.”
Many of Saturday’s speakers talked about how the pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health issues and created new ones.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez agreed the phenomenon was occurring, telling the crowd it is a “critical time” for mental health in the community.
“Hopefully, we are getting close to the end of this COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “Isolation was one of the safeguards recommended by the CDC to slow down the spreading of the virus. Unfortunately, this isolation brought additional stress and hardship to those suffering from mental illness, especially our youth.”
Cortez said a public discussion was the first step to addressing mental health issues and that the county has formed a mental health coalition that published a mental wellness resource guide.
“You are not alone,” he said. “And what defines the community is how we treat one another and what we do for one another. Look at ourselves tonight; everyone’s here for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to help someone else.”
McAllen Independent School District Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez echoed that sentiment, saying that the district has resources for students and adults with mental health issues.
“As we celebrate mental health day, we know that all of us at some point in our lives have or will deal with some form of anxiety or depression or something that makes us hurt, and I want to let our students know that I’m so proud of them for bringing this to the forefront, because it’s OK to not be OK and it’s OK to ask for help when you need it,” he said. “And it means that you’re strong, not that you’re weak, when you lean forward toward somebody for help.”
The Hidalgo County Mental Wellness resource page is available at https://www.hidalgocounty.us/2440/Hidalgo-County-Mental-Wellness.